^ *ft s
New York University Series
Graduate School Studies
CLAIMS AS A CAUSE OF
THE MEXICAN WAR
CLAYTON CHARLES KOHL. Ph.D.
New York University
New York, N. Y.
Claims as a Cause of
The Mexican War
A THESIS submitted TO NEW YORK
UNIVERSITY IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
CLAYTON CHARLES KOHL. Ph.D..
PROFESSOR OF EDUCATION
MOUNT HOLYOKE COLLEGE
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY SERIES OF
GRADUATE SCHOOL STUDIES. NO. 2
THE FACULTY OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
NEW YORK, N. Y.
JAN 25 /gJ5;
Origin of the claims vii
Relation to the Texas and slavery questions vii
Opposing views of the claims controversy viii
Aim of the thesis viii
Chapter I — The Policies of Jackson and Van Buren with
Reference to the Claims — 1829-1838
Relations between United States and Mexico in 1829 1
Butler's mission to Mexico 2
Character of the man 2
His instructions of October 16, 1829 2
His attempts to adjust the claims 2
First report to Congress on claims, January 6, 1835 4
Treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, April 5, 1832 4
Butler's schemes to purchase Texas 4
His personal troubles in Mexico and recall 5
Ellis's mission to Mexico in 1836 5
The situation at the close of the year 1835 5
Ellis's instructions to press the claims, January 29, 1836 .... 5
Ellis recommends a more aggressive policy, May 28, 1836 ... 6
His new instructions of July 20, 1836 6
Fifteen claims presented to Mexico, September 26, 1836 . . 7
Mexico's reply . 8
Ellis's demand for his passports 9
Influence of the Texas question 10
Withdrawal of Mexican Minister from United States 11
Withdrawal of Ellis from Mexico 12
Jackson's war-like message to Congress, February 6, 1837 . . 12
Forty-six claims against Mexico cited 13
Report of Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Febru-
ary 18, 1837 13
Van Buren and Forsyth consulted by Committee 14
Report of House Committee on Foreign Relations, Feb-
ruary 24, 1837 16
Greenhow's mission to Mexico in summer of 1837 17
Fifty-seven claims presented to Mexico 17
Mexico's action regarding them 17
Forsyth's report of December 2, 1837 18
Van Buren places the question before Congress, December
5, 1837 19
Debate in Congress 20
House struggle over the right of petition 21
John Quincy Adams's speech 21
Critical study of the charges he made 22
Jackson's supposed connivance at Texas revolution 23
Jackson's relation to Butler 23
Gaines's entrance into Texas 24
Ellis's mission and the Texas question 25
Jackson's war-like message of February 6, 1837, not in-
fluenced by Texas question 26
Van Buren's pohcy not influenced by it 27
Conclusion: Jackson and Van Buren's policies just 28
Chapter II — The Claims Referred to Arbitration — 1838-
Mexican decree offering to arbitrate the claims, May, 1837 30
Delay in its presentation to the United States 30
Convention of September 10, 1838 31
Ellis sent as minister to Mexico, February, 1839 32
Mexico's failure to ratify the convention 32
Report of House Committee on Foreign Relations, March
2, 1839 32
Van Buren's willingness to conclude new convention 32
Convention of April 11, 1839 32
Act of Congress carrying it into effect, June 12, 1840 33
Meeting of Arbitration Commission 33
Commission discusses question of oaths 33
Commission discusses question of rules of procedure 34
Nature of and access to the board receive great attention ... 34
Progress of the board in its work 37
Summary of the board's findings 38
Mexican commissioners account for failures of board 39
American commissioners reply 39
Disposition of documents 40
Report of the American commissioners 40
Criticism of the Commission 41
Views of Adams, Jay, and Linn 43
Chapter III — Tyler and the Claims — 1842-1845
Expansion the keynote of Tyler's administration 45
Henry A. Wise divulges the policies of Tyler 46
Anti-slavery men aroused 46
Tyler's plan to trade the claims for territory 47
Thompson's letter to Webster, April 29, 1842 47
Thompson's letter to Tyler, May 9, 1842 47
Webster's letter to Thompson, June 27, 1842 48
Neutrality correspondences injures Tyler's plan 49
Jones episode makes plan hopeless 49
United States again urges claims against Mexico 50
Convention of January 30, 1843 50
Thompson's criticism of the claims 51
Thompson not a tool of the slavery interests 51
Upshur's instructions to Thompson regarding a new conven-
Convention of November 20, 1843 53
Senate's ratification with important changes 54
Upshur's explanation of these changes 54
Senate changes criticised 55
Mexico ceases to pay awards, early in 1844 55
United States remonstrates, but without avail 55
Tyler ignores claims and urges annexation 56
Relation of slavery to the Texas question 56
Claims an insignificant matter with Tyler ' 57
Chapter IV — Claims and the Mexican War — 1845-1848
Expansion one of Polk's great aims 58
Mexican situation when he became president 58
Polk plans to send a minister to Mexico 59
One object of the mission the acquisition of territory 59
Mexico asked if she will receive an envoy 59
Mexico agrees to receive a commissioner 60
California policy pressed 60
Bancroft's letter to Sloat, June 24, 1845 60
Larkin made a secret agent to California 60
Slidell's instructions as minister to Mexico 61
Slidell's stay in Mexico 63
Denied recognition 63
Taylor sent to the Rio Grande, January 13, 1846 63
New instructions to Slidell, January 20, 1846 63
Polk's schemes to get Santa Anna back to Mexico 64
Polk suggests bribing Mexico into giving up California ... 65
Slidell denied recognition a second time 66
Detachment of Taylor's forces attacked 67
The war message 67
Object of the war — expansion, as shown in Polk's Diary .... 68
Report on causes of the war by House Committee on For-
eign Relations, June 24, 1846 70
Polk's defense of the war in annual message of December,
This message attacked in Congress 70
In his third annual message, Polk rests the justice of the
war on the claims 72
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo — light it throws on the part
the claims played 73
Expansion the real cause of the war 73
Many men wanted all of Mexico 74
Slavery a hindrance, not a help to the movement 77
Causes of war grouped about two subjects: territory and
Conduct of United States with refreence to the claims
Slavery struggle complicated the question, but the real
cause for the war was expansion 79
A brief statement of the claims taken from Ellis's instruc-
tions of July 20, 1836 80
Brief statement of the claims as presented to Mexico by
the United States in July, 1837 83
After Mexico won her independence from Spain in 1821, there
followed a period of thirty or forty years in which both the society
and government of that country underwent profound changes.
The conservatives completely dominated by the clergy were
bent upon retaining the old monarchy. The liberals were equally
strong in their desire to establish republican institutions. The
struggle between the old order and the new kept Mexico in almost
constant revolution from 1821 to 1855. In this period, the form
of government was changed eight times and the country was
ruled by thirty-five different administrations.^ Romero, one
of the recent ministers of Mexico to this country, says that
conditions during this time were very similar to those existing
in European countries during the feudal regime. The clergy,
he maintains, were really feudal barons monopolizing the
wealth and education of the country find exerting a powerful
influence over the minds of the people.- Webster in 1846 gave
it as his opinion that Mexico had had one of the most irregular
and worst governments that had ever existed on earth.
Such conditions inevitably led to many difficulties between
Mexico and the foreign nations whose citizens resided in that
country or had business interests there. Many Americans were
engaged in Mexican trade, and they soon made numerous com-
plaints because of confiscation of property and personal mis-
treatment. For twenty years prior to the Mexican War these
complaints constituted one of the most important subjects of
controversy between the two nations. It was impossible to
keep them from being blended with the other questions under
diplomatic discussion. This fact has led to much confusion of
thought regarding their true significance in the relations between
the two countries.
Every president of the United States from Jackson to Bu-
chanan, with the possible exception of Van Buren, ardently desired
to secure the two Mexican provinces of Texas and California.
Whenever any of these executives pressed the redress of the
1 Romero, Mexico and the United States, pp. 374-376.
Ubid., p. 369.
claims upon Mexico, their opponents at once raised the cry that
they were doing it for the purpose of furthering their ulterior
designs. The foundation of this antagonism lay in the great
slavery controversy. To secure Texas and California meant
the increase of slave-state power. The enemies of this policy
were so blinded by their feelings that they could view no hostile
movement toward Mexico in any other light than that it was
intended to precipitate a war which would result in the addition
of new slave territory to the Union. John Quincy Adams was
the great leader in this view, and he never tired in forcing it upon
Congress and the country. Many American historians have
accepted his interpretation, notably Jay, Livermore, Von Hoist,
On the other hand the administrations that dealt with the
claims unduly magnified their importance. Statements that
proceeded from them would lead to the belief that the claims
constituted at any time after 1836 a legitimate and sufficient
cause for war. Jackson was ready to go to war over them in
1837, and Van Buren thought he was warranted in doing so.
Tyler held that we would be doing right in taking redress into
our own hands. And after the Mexican War became a fact,
Polk practically justified it on the sole ground that the injuries
done to our citizens deserved indemnification. "To reject
indemnity," runs his third annual message of 1847, "by refusing
to accept a cession of territory would be to abandon all our just
demands, and to wage the war, bearing all its expenses, without
a purpose or definite object."
The views of neither side are to be accepted. One side unduly
minimized the importance of the claims because they thought
they were mere tools in the hands of slavery advocates. The
other side unduly magnified their importance, because they
either overestimated them as a grievance or because they wished
to use them to further other projects, which projects, however
were not the same as those attributed to the authors of them
by their enemies. The aim of this thesis is to trace the history
of the claims for the purpose of showing just what part they
played, in connection with other events, in bringing about the
The Policies of Jackson and Van Buren with Reference
TO the Claims— 1829-1838
Before Jackson became president, a few claims had been
brought to the notice of the Mexican government, but they
were very unimportant and created sUght discussion.^ But
conditions had already arisen which were to affect the subsequent
history of the claims, since events had occurred which had tended
to arouse the suspicion of Mexico regarding the good will of the
United States. Texas had already been populated almost
wholly by Americans, and Mexico was aware of the great interest
that this country had in that province. United States had made
two attempts to purchase it, one in 1825 and the other in 1827.'-
Mexico refused to ratify the treaty of amity, commerce, and
navigation negotiated in 1828 because there was appended to it
an article dealing with the Texas boundary.^ Prior to 1829
therefore, the one great question had arisen which was to com-
plicate all the relations between the two countries for the next
twenty years. Besides this another trivial circumstance had
occurred which went a long way toward increasing Mexico's
ill-feeling toward the United States. Ponisett, the first minister
from this country to Mexico, had, during his residence there
from 1825 to 1829, taken great interest in the York branch of
the Masonic lodge. This organization was an agent of the
liberal party, and the conservatives at once accused Ponisett of
attempting to aid the establishment of republican institutions.
Some of the state legislatures of Mexico went so far as to pass
resolutions asking the central government to order him out of
Mexico's ill-will was to be changed by Jackson's policy into
1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 33-35
■^ American State Papers, P'oreign Relations. Vol. 6, p. 580, and House
Documents, 25th Congress, 1st Session. No. 42, pp. 8-10.
'House Documents, 2.5th Congress, Lst Session. No. 42, p. 26. For the
treaty see American State Papers, Foreign Relations. Vol. 6, pp. 952-957.
^Niles' Register, Vol. 33, pp. 13-14, 23-26; Vol. 35, p. 365; and Vol. 37, p.
2 Graduate School Publications.
bitter hostility. Upon Ponisett's recall, he appointed Anthony
Butler charge da'ffaires to take his place. Butler had never
filled any important civil position; was totally unacquainted
with the Spanish language; and was, as he himself admitted,
"a perfect novice in diplomacy."^ He was one of Jackson's old
comrades in arms, and it seems certain that the friendship that
had existed between them for more than twenty years was the
sole reason that led to his appointment. His conduct as head
of the legation shows that he was wholly unfitted for such an
important trust, whether viewed from the standpoint of ability
or character. More than this, Butler was sent to Mexico under
practically two sets of instructions. The one from the Depart-
ment of State outlined the chief topicsofhis mission, and enjoined
upon him as his chief duty the reestablishing of harmony. The
other came from Jackson personally, and imposed upon him the
important task of purchasing Texas. Had Butler been an expe-
rienced diplomat, he could scarcely have accom.plished both
The general instructions issued to him on October 16, 1829,
pointed out that one of the most important duties of his mission
would be that of protecting American citizens in Mexico by
securing their persons and property against all undue exactions
or illegal exercise of power on the part of local authorities. ^ But-
ler represented this country in Mexico until the close of the
year 1835, and during this time complaints rapidly multiplied.
Interposition was asked for in so many cases that in February,
1832, and again in July, 1833, the Department of State urged
him to press them more forcibly upon the attention of the Mexi-
In accordance with these instructions, Butler addressed a note,
October 16, 1833, to Garcia, Minister of Foreign Affairs, asking
him to appoint an early date for an interview at which a plan
might be devised for adjusting all the claims in the archives of
the legation.* Garcia rephed, October 24, that the Vice-Presi-
dent had directed him to say that the most convenient method
of settling the complaints would be for each claimant to present
1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 381-
2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 40-42.
^Ihid., pp. 83 and 106.
*Ibid., p. 502.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 3
himself with his papers at the Treasury Department. He held
that there was no need of appointing a date, but curtly added,
"However, should that gentleman still insist upon an interview^
after what has been here said, the undersigned will have the
honor of appointing a day where he will repeat to him the resolu-
tion referred to above. "^
Butler immediately notified McLane, Secretary of State, of
the action that had been taken, and said that he had informed
certain claimants of the decision which Mexico had m.ade, where-
upon they presented themselves to the Treasury Department
only to be met with the reply that no claim would be investi-
gated until the whole number outstanding had been laid before
the department. It was his opinion that the whole policy had
been designed for the purpose of evasion and delay. Garcia's
reply to his request for an interview was pronounced insulting 2
Butler again wrote McLane, March 2, 1834, saying that claims
contmued to multiply, and when they were presented Mexico
put forth the excuse that they were due to the conduct of faction-
ists or state officials and for this the central government could
not be held responsible.^
McLane answered Butler's notes on June 24, 1834, declaring
that the United States must hold the federal government of
Mexico responsible for such injuries to citizens as merited national
mterposition. He pronounced as unreasonable the policy Mexico
had adopted in making the claimants appear at the Treasury
Department. "The President also wishes," said the letter,
"that if a prompt and favorable answer should not be giveii
upon this as well as upon the other points at issue between the
two Governments, you will present my letter to the Minister of
Foreign Affairs, and return home. " In the event of his leaving,
however, he was to make it known that he had no intent of
interrupting the friendly relations between the two nations."
Butler evidently felt that it was not necessary to take the
step suggested, for on October 20 he wrote that he felt certain
he could settle all the questions in dispute between the two
countries aft er the meeting of the Mexican Congress in the
^Ibid., pp. 502-503.
^HouseDocuments, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol 12 No 351 n .501
' Ibid., pp. 517-518. ' . i • • •
' House Documents, 25tli Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 144-
4 Graduate School Puhlications.
following January. The House now called for information on
the subject; and, on January 6, 1835, Jackson submitted a letter
written the day before by Forsyth, Secretary of State. This
letter reported that various representations had been made by
the United States upon Mexico with reference to the claims,
but that the conditions in that country had made it impossible
to secure any satisfaction. The hope was held out that by
exercising forbearance the difficulty would be adjusted without
trouble.' This report was evidently based on Butler's state-
ments, but his hopes failed to materiaUze.
So far as the claims were concerned, Butler succeeded in doing
only one thing of importance during his residence in Mexico, and
that was the conclusion of a treaty of amity, commerce, and
navigation in April, 1831. This treaty was ratified April 5,
1832, and was in almost the exact language of that negotiated
by Ponisett earlier. It entered at length into the details of the
policy that the contracting parties would pursue in case difficul-
ties arose. The courts of each country were to be open to the
citizens of the other in case they needed them. It was agreed
that neither country would declare war against the other without
first formally stating grievances accompanied by proof.^ This
treaty, although often quoted, proved to be practically worthless.
The real importance of Butler's mission, however, cannot be
fully understood unless his conduct with reference to the Texas
question be known. Just before Ponisett's recall, Jackson had
instructed Van Buren, Secretary of State, to issue him elaborate
directions regarding the purchase of Texas ;^ but, due to his
withdrawal, they came to naught. Butler's general instructions
of October 16, 1929, did not take up the subject; but three days
after they were issued, Jackson sent a personal letter to him
calling his attention to the importance of Texas.* From this
letter it is certain that Jackson intended the chief object of But-
ler's mission to be that of securing territory.
That Mexico understood this object is evidenced by the fact
that no sooner had Butler reached Mexico than Alaman, Secre-
tary of State, presented a report to the Congress of that country
1 House Documents, 23d Congress, 2d 8ession. Vol. 2, No. 61.
2 Treaties and Conventions, pp. 544-555.
2 House Documents, 2.5th Congress, 1st Session. No. 42, i)p. 10-16.
^Jackson MSS Library of Congress.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 5
bitterly assailing the designs of the United States.^ In spite of
the fact that Mexico had become extremely sensitive upon this
point, Butler pressed the object of his mission with great enthu-
siasm, and conducted himself in a manner which was, to say the
least, highly disgraceful. He tried every scheme he could think
of — teasing, threatening, and above all bribing.^
This conduct caused him to be so thoroughly hated in Mexico
that the United States was asked to recall him. He did not
return to this country for nearly a j^ear, and during that time
he got into all sorts of personal difficulties, one of which ended
in his challenging to a duel General Tornel, the Mexican Secretary
of War.3 He was finally ordered by the Mexican government
to leave the country within eight days.* It would be putting it
too mildly to say that his mission was unfortunate. At the very
time when Mexico was beginning to grapple with a revolution in
Texas, this country had a representative in the former trying
all sorts of dishonorable schemes to purchase the rebelling prov-
ince. Harmonious relations were now out of the question.
Shortly after Butler's recall in December, 1835, the Senate
confirmed the nomination of Powhatan Ellis of Mississippi to
fill his place as charge d'affaires. The year 1836 is an important
one in the history of the relations between the two countries.
United States urges with great zeal her claims against Mexico;
and Mexico, in turn, with equal zeal presses her grievance against
the United States for sympathizing, if not aiding, the Texas
Revolution. Although the two questions were separate in
nature, it was inevitable that they should powerfully affect one
On January 29, 1836, Forsyth, Secretary of State, wrote Ellis
that "The claims of citizens of the United States on the Mexican
Government for injuries to their persons or property by the
authorities or citizens of that republic, are numerous, and of
considerable amount; and, though many of them are of long
standing, provision for their payment is pertinaciously withheld,
1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 312-
''See his letters in House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12,
No. 351. See also Barker, "Jackson and Texas Revolution." Am. His.
Rev. Vol. 12.
3 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, p. 600.
''Ibid., p. 599.
6 Graduate School Publications.
and the justice of most of them has not been acknowledged."
The letter stated that while the President was willing to look with
indulgent consideration upon the almost incessant commotions
in Mexico which made it difficult for her to render justice, he
yet thought that these troubles afforded no sufficient apology for
refusing or declining to examine the claims. Ellis was, therefore,
instructed to embrace the first opportunity to impart these
sentiments to the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs.^
Ellis early made up his mind that the United States had been
pursuing the wrong policy, for on May 28 he wrote: "The
long forbearance of our Government in relation to the numerous
outrages on our Commerce has had the most unhappy influences
on the Mexican people. They look upon us as either too imbecile,
or afraid to indicate our just rights; and hence the continual
injuries inflicted upon the persons and property of citizens of the
United States. So long, then, as these impressions prevail here,
I am deprived of the power of rendering but little service to my
countrymen. The protestations and statements, heretofore
made by the legation in regard to their claims, have been post-
poned from time to time, and ultimately evaded by some pretext,
not founded in the justice of the cases. An examination of the
records in this office confirms me in this opinion; as I am unable
to find a single case where indemnification has been awarded to,
and payment received by, the claimant. Under this state of
things, I would respectfully suggest the propriety of pursuing a
different policy in our intercourse with the Mexican States. They
ought to be made to understand that the seizure and condemna-
tion of the property, and the imprisonment of American citizens,
without in some instances even the color of law to warrant it,
will be arrested by a Government whose uniform policy has been
to resist violence and aggression from all foreign powers." ^
Ellis's suggestion was accepted by the Department of State,
and on July 20, 1836, he was informed that further delay in the
acknowledgment, if not in the redress, of the claims could not
be acquiesced in compatibly with the dignity, rights, and inter-
ests of the United States. The instructions briefly stated fifteen
1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 160-
2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 591-
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 7
claims ' for which the interposition of this government had been
asked since the ratification of the treaty of amity, commerce,
and navigation April 5, 1832. "Though the department," says
the letter, "is not in possession of proof of all the circumstances
of the wrongs done in the above cases, as represented by the
aggrieved parties, yet the complaints are such as to entitle them
to be listened to, and to justify a demand on the Mexican Govern-
ment that they shall be prom.ptly and properly examined, and
that suitable redress shall be afforded. You will, therefore,
immediately address a strong but respectful representation to the
Mexican Government on the subject of these various injuries.
You v/ill also remind it of the numerous other complainCs which
have been made from time to time, and which still remain unre-
dressed. You will likewise set forth the great forbearance which
the Government of the United States has practised towards
Mexico, and the friendly and benevolent motives which have
led to it; and you will state that the President, finding this mod-
eration and forbearance, so far from being appreciated by Mexico,
seem only to be met by new injuries, is constrained by a high
sense of duty, to ask of the Mexican Government such reparation
as these accumulated wrongs may, on examination, be found to
The instructions concluded with the outline of a definite pol-
icy which Ellis was to pursue: "If, contrary to the President's
hopes, no satisfactory answer shall be given to this just and
reasonable demand within three weeks, you will inform the
Mexican Government that, unless redress is afforded without
unnecessary delay, your further residence in Mexico will be
useless. If this state of things continue longer, you will give
formal notice to the Mexican Government, that unless a satis-
factory answer shall be given within a fortnight, you are in-
structed to ask for your passports; and, at the end of that time,
if you do not receive such answer, it is the President's direction
that you demand your passports and return to the United States,
bringing with you the archives of the legation." ^
In accordance with these directions, Ellis addressed on Sep-
tember 26, 1836, a letter to Monasterio, the Acting Minister of
Foreign Affairs of Mexico. With a few minor changes, he stated
1 For brief statement of each of these claims see Appendix I.
2 House Docmnents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp. 24-27.
8 Graduate School Puhlications
the specific claims in almost the exact language of his instruc-
tions. To these he added in rather strong terms some general
grievances. "The flag of the United States," he said, "has
been repeatedly insulted and fired upon by the pubUc armed
vessels of this Government; her consuls, in almost every port
of the republic, have been maltreated and insulted by the pub-
lic authorities; her citizens, while in the pursuit of a lawful and
peaceful trade, have been murdered on the high seas by a licen-
tious and unrestrained soldiery. Others have been arrested and
scouraged in the streets by the military, like common male-
factors; they have been seized and imprisoned under the most
frivolous pretexts; their property has been condemned and
confiscated, in violation of existing treaties and the acknowl-
edged laws of nations; and large sums of money have been ex-
acted of them, contrary to all law." His letter closed with a
demand for reparation in all the specific cases cited and due
satisfaction for the numerous insults offered to the United States. ^
Monasterio answered, October 3, saying that as it was neces-
sary to examine numerous documents in order to comply with the
demand; an order had been issued to have them collected at the
Department of State where they would be examined and re-
ported upon "with all despatch."^
Ellis waited until October 20, and then notified Monasterio
that unless redress were afforded without unnecessary delay his
longer residence in Mexico would be useless.^ Monasterio an-
swered the next day that his government did not understand how
a delay in the reply to any note, however grave its subject might
be, could be considered a sufficient cause for taking the step
referred to. He pointed out that in the present case it was
clearly understood that the delay had been occasioned by the
want of documents, a circumstance which was beyond the con-
trol of his government. He declared that the requisitions had
already been made for the documents, and that he would occupy
himself exclusively with the matter.^ Ellis did not consider
this a "favorable response"; and, on November 4, he wrote that
unless a satisfactory answer were received within the space of
1 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp.
2 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, p. 34.
^Ihid., pp. 42-43.
1 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp. 44-45.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 9
two weeks from date he would demand his passports and return
to the United States. ^
This situation led Monasterio to make a reply to Ellis's letter
of September 26, presenting the claims. He began with the
observation that the claims were confined to the affairs of indi-
viduals, and, therefore, belonged to the judiciary rather than
to the central government. The fourteenth article of the tPeaty
of amity, commerce, and navigation had provided specifically
for such cases since it has stipulated that each nation would
eave open to the citizens of the other its tribunals of justice.
He then analyzed each specific claim presented. Two, he re-
cognized as vaUd; on nine, he deferred judgment because of the
lack of information; one he pronounced grossly exaggerated; and
two, he openly denied. He intimated that some of those on
which he had deferred final judgment were exaggerated because
the claimants wished to reap advantage or escape justice. He
also thought that some of the claimants had suffered because
they were ignorant of Mexican laws, but for this his government
could not be held responsible. In regard to the insults that had
been given to the officers and flag of the United States, he said,
"These charges are made in terms so general, the Supreme
Government of the republic desires that they may be specified
before taking them into consideration." He resented Ellis's
use of the words, "illegal," "arbitrary," and "violent" as char-
acteristic of the acts of Mexico; and he likewise resented the
statement that the President of the United States had always
treated Mexico with special indulgence. The statement was
repeated that the delay in answering a note was not sufficient
cause for severing diplomatic intercourse, and the fact was
neatly pointed out that the United States had not, up to Octo-
ber 4, given any reply to notes which the Mexican Minister
there had addressed to it in the months of August and September
and upon subjects of the greatest importance. The whole letter
bore marks of fairness, careful thought, and complete self-
control on the part of the author.'^
On November 30, Ellis wrote Forsyth that Monasterio's
letter was "wholly unsatisfactory" and that, if nothing occurred
to produce a change, he would demand his passports in two or
^Ibid., pp. 45-46.
2 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 50-59.
10 Graduate School Publications.
three days.^ A week later he carried out his intentions. On
December 7, he wrote Monasterio a long letter, taking issue
with him on the interpretation of the fourteenth article of the
treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation. He held that each
country agreed to leave its courts open to the citizens of the
other in order to avoid the delay incident to an appeal to the
central government, and not with any intention to preclude
other modes of redress. "If the language of that article," says .
the letter, "confines citizens of the United States to seek pro-
tection in the judicial tribunals of the country, in certain cases,
it would follow, as a necessary consequence, that their decisions
would be final. ... It will be recollected that many of the
claims now urged for adjustment arise out of the illegal seizure
and condemnation of vessels and cargoes, by the same tribunals
to which, your excellency is pleased to say, we can alone resort
for indemnification." This doctrine would deny to the United
States "the exercise of an unquestioned right of sovereignty to
make investigation into all cases where complaints are made."
He resented Monasterio's implication that some of the claimants
were smugglers ; and to his request that some of the claims should
be presented in a more specific manner, he replied that he could
see no good likely to come from it judging from the way Mexico
had treated those already in her possession. "With all these
facts before him," he concluded, "the undersigned entertains
no hope of a satisfactory adjustment of the questions in contro-
versy between the United States of America and Mexico. He
has patiently waited three weeks for some evidence of a more
favorable disposition to render justice to his injured country,
biit he has waited in vain; and, whatever may be the conse-
quences, he now feels it to be his duty, in compliance with in-
structions, to request that his excellency the President ad interim
will be pleased to furnish him with the necessary passports to
leave the Mexican republic."^
In the meantime, important events affecting the relations
between the two countries had taken place in Washington.
During the spring of 1836 Texas had established an independ-
ent government and had practically demonstrated the fact that
she was able to maintain it. Her agents were in the United
1 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, p. 46.
^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 60-67.
Cla.i7ns as a Cause of the Mexican War. 11
States seeking both recognition and annexation.^ Congress took
up both these questions ; ^ and the interest that this country had
in Texas was patent to everyone. When Jackson instructed
General Gaines to advance to the western frontier and even
enter Texas territory if necessary to prevent Indian depredations,
Gorostiza, the Mexican Minister in Washington, protested. He
accused this government of winking at the aid which was con-
stantly going to the revolutionists from this country. When
General Gaines did cross the boundary and advance to Nacog-
doches, he demanded his passports and left Washington because
Jackson did not comply with his demand that Gaines should be
recalled.^ Before he withdrew, he wrote and circulated among
the diplomatic corps at Washington a pamphlet which assailed
in the most bitter manner the bad faith of this government
It is impossible to determine from public documents the pre-
cise effect which Gorostiza's conduct had upon the withdrawal
of Ellis. Jackson in his annual message of December 5, 1836,
nearly two months after the departure of the Mexican minister,
said that although the claims remained unredressed they hoped
"by tempering firmness with courtesy, and acting with great
forbearance' ' to obtain justice and avoid bringing the matter
again before Congress.^ Five days later, he directed Forsyth
to notify Ellis that if Mexico sanctioned Gorostiza's conduct,
he should demand his passports and return to the United States.^
This letter, however, could not have reached Ellis in time to
have influenced his action. On December 21, the Mexican
government sanctioned its minister's conduct; '' and, on the same
day, Ellis wrote Forsyth, saying, "I am fully persuaded that
nothing but a prompt, firm, and decisive course of action on the
part of the Congress of the United States, will induce these
people to adjust the subjects of controversy between the two
1 Garrison. Texan Diplomatic Correspondence. Annual Report of the
American Historical Association for the year 1907. Vol. 2.
^ Debates in Congress, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 12.
^ For correspondence, see House Documents, 24th Congress, 1st Session.
Vol. 6, No. 256.
^For pamphlet, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol.
7, No. 190.
^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 5.
^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp. 47-50.
^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 239, pp. 81-82.
12 Graduate School Publications.
governments." ^ The next day Ellis made his final demand for
Monasterio did not send Ellis his passports, but on December
24 wrote him asking that he state definitely what causes had
prompted him to take the step in order that in the future the
responsibility for the results might rest where it ]:elonged.^
Ellis considered this a discourteous refusal of his passports,
and made no reply. ^ On the morning of the 27th, Monasterio
again asked for a reply; but as none was made, he sent the pass-
ports in the evening.^ Thus, at the close of the year 1836, the
diplomatic relations between the two countries were completely
On February 6, 1837, Jackson placed the situation before
Congress. "At the beginning of this session," said the message,
"Congress was informed that our claims upon Mexico had not been
adjusted, but that, notwithstanding the irritating effect upon her
councils of the movements in Texas, I hoped, by great forbear-
ance, to avoid the necessity of again bringing the subject of them
to your notice. That hope has been disappointed. Having,
in vain, urged upon that Government the justice of those claims,
and my indispensable obligation to insist that there should be
no further delay in the acknowledgment, if not in the redress,
of the injuries complained of, my duty requires that the whole
subject should be presented, as it now is, for the action of Con-
gress, whose exclusive right it is to decide on the further measures
of redress to be employed. The length of time since some of
these injuries have been committed, the repeated and unavail-
ing applications for redress, the wanton character of some of the
outrages upon the property and persons of our citizens, inde-
pendent of recent insults to this Government and people by the
late extraordinary Mexican Minister, would justify, in the eyes
of all nations, immediate war. That remedy, however, should
not be used by just and generous nations, confiding in their
strength, for injuries committed, if it can be honorabl}^ avoided;
1 MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from agents in
Mexico. Vol. 8.
* House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 67-68.
3 Ibid., pp. 82-83.
* House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp.
^Ibid., pp. 84-85.
Claims as a Cavse of Ihe Mexican War. 13
and it has occurred to me that, considering the P'.e.ent embar-
rassed condition of that country, we should act with both w s
dom and moderation by giving to Mexico one more opportumty
to atone for the past, before we take redress into our own hands.
ToToid all misconception on the part of Mexico, as well as to
protect our own national character from reproach, this oppor u-
nitv should be given with the avowed design and full preparation
to take immedfate satisfaction if it should not be obtained on a
repetition of the demand for it. To this end, I recommend that
an act be passed authorizing reprisals, and the use of the mival
force of the United States, by the Executive, agamst Mexico,
to enforce them, in the event of a refusal by the Mexican govern-
ment to come to an amicable adjustment of the matters in con-
troversy between us, upon another demand thereof made from
on hoard one of our vessels of war on the coast of Mexico.
Appended to this message was a list of forty-six grievances
ac^ainst Mexico. Two of the fifteen claims which Ellis had been
f,:structed to present had been adjusted; the other thirteen were
c uded in the list. Of the remaining thirty-three twenty-nme
bore a date prior to the ratification of the treaty of amity, com-
merce, and navigation on April 5. 1832. Some of these were
Tses which had arisen while Mexico was under Spamsh rule.
Three of the claims were not dated at all. In twenty-two the
amount of the damage claimed was stated, but >» /h^^ "t^er
twenty-four it was not even approximately given. A footnote
to the list says, "It is proper to mention, that the above is no
considered a full exhibit of the just claims of citizens of the United
States on the Mexican Government."'
Buchanan, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Fo eign
Relations, made a report on the message, ^^^^''^^'y J^'.'^^J^
This agreed with the President that the injuries would justify
„a but it recommended that it w^ould be better to follow the
thirty-fourth article of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navi-
gation wlh had stipulated that in case of difficulties neither
S'Jould go to wa' or make reprisals without first presenting
a statement of injuries verified by competent proof^ Af er
such a demand," continued the report, "should prompt justice
be refused by the Mexican Government, we may appeal to all
.House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 1-2.
= House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139.
14 Graduate School Publications.
nations, not only for the equity and moderation \vith which we
shall have acted toward a sister Republic, but for the necessity
which will then compel us to seek redress for our wrongs, either
by actual war, or by reprisals." The committee sanctioned the
President's conduct in authorizing General Gaines to advance
to Nacogdoches, and pronounced the pamphlet of the Mexican
minister a "glaring impropriety," and a gross violation of diplo-
matic courtesy. The report closed with a resolution concurring
with the President in his request for another demand, and declar-
ing that if it did not bring redress, "a state of things will then
have occurred which will make it the imperative duty of Con-
gress promptly to consider what further measures may be re-
quired by the honor of the nation and the rights of our injured
When read hastily, the report sounds war-like; but when read
critically, it appears in a very different light. It agreed v/ith the
President that one more demand should be made upon Mexico;
but, in the event of refusal, it did not authorize reprisals nor
did it bind Congress to any specific policy. Much was said
about the justice of going to war, but nothing about going to
war. Some incidents connected with the preparation of the
report lead to the belief that there was Uttle desire of resorting
to hostile measures.
Four days before it was presented, Tallmadge, one of the com-
mittee, addressed from the Senate Chamber a note to Van Buren,
President elect, saying: ''The Committee on Foreign Relations
met this morning on our Mexican affairs. They are not very
belligerent — and, as it is a matter which your administration will
have to shoulder, the committee feel that your views should be
consulted. The committee have adjourned to tomorrow morning.
In the meantime, if I hear nothing to the contrary, Mr. Buchanan,
and myself will, after dining at Mr. Pleasontons's, call on you this
evening on this subject."^ Van Buren evidently not wishing to
talk, gave the note one of his characteristically non-committal
answers. He said that, wuth the knowledge he had upon the
subject, he could not see how Jackson could have avoided, under
the circumstances, making the recommendations that he had to
Congress. This bod}', he thought, would direct what was proper
1 Congressional Globe, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, pp. 193-194.
2 Van Buren MSS., Library of Congress.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War 15
in the matter and so far as he was concerned he would do all in
his power to carry out their directions.^
The report was also subnutted to Forsyth, perhaps the most
war-like member of the administration. He returned it on the
day that it was presented to the Senate, respectfully suggesting
"that the committee seem to have had an imperfect knowledge
of the facts in relation to our affairs with Mexico, and that the
Resolution proposed to be submitted to the Senate is not consist-
ent with the declaration of the committee that they agree in
opinion with the President."*^ The irony of Buchanan's reply
of the same day shows clearly how he felt. ''Such an opinion,"
he said, "emanating from the Secretary of State cannot fail to
produce a happy effect in promoting harmony between the differ-
ent branches of the Government. The committee will not, how-
ever, reciprocate the complimxent paid them by the Secretary,
lest they might do him an act of injustice, which would be ex-
tremely repugnant to their feelings. " ^ Forsyth then denied that
he had meant any offense;^ and the committee accepted his ex-
planation in good faith. ^
From these incidents, it is apparent that there was very littlsj^
of the war spirit. The fact that the Senate gave the report
scarcely any discussion likewise shows that it did not consider it
a very serious matter. Except that of Clay, no noteworthy
attack was made upon the report. He thought the case had
been made out rather stronger against Mexico than the corres-
pondence would justify. He declared that "he must say, in all
candor and truth, that -the departure of our representative from
Mexico, under the circumstances, was harsh, abrupt, and unnec-
essary." He held that Mexico needed more time than was
allowed for the examination to the documents. Although Goros-
tiza's conduct was reprehensible, he could not see a cause for war
in it.^ In reply, Buchanan justified Ellis, but said that the com-
mittee did not wish to give the President power to order reprisals
in view of the fact that Santa Anna had arrived in Washington
and there were reasons to believe that he would soon be restored
2 Moore. Works of James Buchanan. Vol. 3, p. 213.
^Ibid., p. 214.
^ Ibid., p. 219.
^Ibid., p. 220.
^ Congressional Globe, 24th Congi'ess, 2d Session. Vol. 4, pp. 209-210.
16 Graduate School Publications.
to power in Mexico and then justice would be rendered to our
country.^ The resolution contained in the report was then
adopted by a unanimous vote.^
Howard, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Rela-
tions, presented a report on the President's message, February
24, 1837. The committee felt that the claims had proceeded, in
part, from the knowledge that the Mexicans had of our form of
government and the limited powers of its executive branch.
"Those nations," said the report, "which permit themselves
to disregard the remonstrances of the President, when conveyed
through agents appointed by him, and rely for their security upon
the limited powers which our Constitution has entrusted to that
officer, must be taught that his complaints against injury and
outrage do but speak, in anticipation, the voice of the entire
people of the country. " The report fully concurred with the
opinion of the President that ample cause existed for taking
redress into our hands, but it recommended that, as an evidence
of a desire to preserve peaceful relations, one more demand be
made upon Mexico "in the most solemn form." It suggested
that this demand be made through "a diplomatic functionary of
the highest grade " in order to show the great importance attached
to the mission. These recommendations were embodied in two
resolutions at the close of the report.^ The House postponed
action upon them from day to day and finally adjourned without
rejecting or adopting them.'' Whether the House meant to dis-
regard the resolutions, it is impossible to say. Howard, a year
later, said that the House was in sympathy with them, but simply
had failed to act because of the want of time. He pointed out
that during the same session that body had inserted a clause in
the appropriation bill providing for the outfit and salary of a
minister to Mexico to the effect that such appropriation was not
to be used unless the President felt that diplomatic intercourse
with Mexico could be honorably renewed.^
Such were the conditions of the Mexican relations when Van
Buren became President, March 4, 1837. He made no change,
however, in the policy of sending one more solemn demand to
1 Ibid., p. 210.
2 Ibid., p. 210. February 27, 1837.
^ Congressional Giobe, 24th Congress, 2cl .Session. Vol. 4, p. 202.
* Ibid., pp. 203, 206, 213, and 215.
^ House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056, p. 2.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 17
Mexico for redress. In May 27, 1837, Forsyth sent a note to
Greenhow, a clerk in the Department of State, telling him that
he had been appointed a bearer of despatches to Mexico and
instructing him to proceed at once to that country and deliver
into the hands of the Minister of Foreign Affairs the packet en-
trusted to his care. He was also directed to inform the minister
that he would remain in the City of Mexico one week.^ The
packet contained a letter written by Forsyth and directed to the
Minister of Foreign Affairs and also a statement of fifty-seven
claims accompanied by documentary proofs.^
Forsyth's letter reviewed the nature of the complaints and
stated exactly what this government expected from Mexico : rep-
aration for all the injuries which had been perpetrated upon our
citizens or government by that republic from the date of its inde-
pendence to the present hour. " It is the ardent wish of the Presi-
dent of the United States, " concluded the letter, ''that the govern-
ment of the Mexican republic will give an earnest of its disposi-
tion to preserve the relations of concord and good neighborhood
with this country, by bestowing its prompt attention upon this
last demand upon its justice and honor, made according to the
forms prescribed by the treaty between the two Governments,
that the United States may be justified in the eyes of all nations
for any measures they shall be compelled to take, should this
appeal to the Government of Mexico be made in vain."^
The packet was deUvered July 20, 1837; and on July 29,
Cuevas, the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, replied to
Forsyth's letter. He said although the President of Mexico
"earnestly desired to give to the Government of the United
States a prompt and explicit answer upon each of the claims to
which that communication relates, it has been impossible for him
even to make the attempt, not only on account of the shortness of
time within which the person commissioned to bring the documents
is required to return, but also because the circumstances connected
with many of the claims are so numerous, so various in their
origin, and so distinct in their natures, that each case requires a
mature and impartial examination." He said his government
had already ordered the papers presented to it translated and
1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, p. 112.
2 For these claims, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1,
No. 3, pp. 40-108. For a brief statement of each of them, see Appendix II.
3 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 108-112.
18 Graduate School Publications.
examined. These would be compared with documents in Mexico
and others would be collected if needed. As to the manner in
which the result of the investigation would be made known, he
said, "The minister of Mexico in Washington will then have the
honor to communicate successively to Mr. Forsyth, the opinion
of the President upon each case, and the resolution adopted by
him in consequence. " ^
On May 14, 1837, the President of Mexico appointed Martinez
Minister to the United States;^ and in October, this government
acknowledged him.^ On November 18, the new minister ad-
dressed ten notes to Forsyth, each one discussing a claim upon
which the Mexican government had taken action. The first of
these notes is important since it dealt with the complaint regard-
ing the publication of the pamphlet by Gorostiza, the former
Mexican minister to this country. His conduct was justified on
the grounds that he had meant no offense and had been compelled
to do as he had done in order to put himself in the proper light
before his countrymen. It was denied that he had violated dip-
lomatic courtesy since he had published the pamphlet in the
Spanish language and not in the English and had not himself
circulated it am'ong the diplomatic corps in Washington. In
justification of this point, it was further added that the corre-
spondence he had quoted did not relate to a pending question
nor was much of it even secret. The case of the American Com-
missioners at Ghent was cited to show that Gorostiza had not
acted without precedent. Of the nine remaining notes, only
three dealt with claims that had been presented by Greenhow.
Two of these were denied and one acknowledged.^ With the
exception of Forsyth's letter^ to Martinez, November 24, 1837,
presenting six new claims, no other event of importance occurred
before the opening of Congress in December.
On December 2, 1837, Fors3i:h made a careful report on the
claims controversy as it then stood. This report said that the
fifty-seven claims presented to Mexico had been prepared with
great care so that none might be of a doubtful character. It
1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 115-116.
2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 2, No. 351, pp. 751-752.
2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 157-158.
^ For these notes, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol.
1, No. 3, pp. 119-132.
^Ibid., pp. 159-162.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 19
then described the manner in which the Mexican government
had dealt with them. Instead of using the hst as presented by
Greenhow, the hst appended to Jackson's message of February
6, 1837, had been fohowed-^ Consequently, six of the ten notes
sent to Forsyth, November 18, dealt with claims that had been
withdrawn. This made it appear that Mexico had not even ex-
amined the documents as presented in July. Only four of the
fifty-seven claims had received any consideration. The report
answered at length the arguments that Mexico had advanced in
defence of Gorostiza's conduct in publishing the pamphlet. In
closing, it gave a rather gloomy picture of the situation existing
in the relations between the two countries. Embargoes had been
laid upon American vessels; ships had been captured for disre-
garding pretended blockades; cargoes had been confiscated without
legal procedure; and officers, crews, and passengers had been
plundered and imprisoned. "From these facts, " said the report,
"a judgment may be formed of the value of the assurances that
have been received from the Mexican Government, and the
probabihty of their ever being fulfilled." The whole document
was bitter in tone and would have made a good war message to
Van Buren submitted this report to Congress along with his
annual message of December 5, 1837. In the message, he re-
viewed the history of the negotiations for the past year and said
that he could see no way in which the executive alpne could do
anything to bring the unfortunate controversy to a close. In
view of this fact, he asserted, "it has become my painful duty to
return the subject as it now stands, to Congress, to whom it be-
longs to decide upon the time, the mode, and the measure of
redress. Whatever may be your decision, it shall be faithfully
executed, confident that it will be characterized by that modera-
tion and justice which will, I trust, under all circumstances, govern
the councils of our country. "^
Before Congress took up the subject for discussion, plans were
already under way for the submission of the claims to arbitration;
so what took place in Congress was merely an expression of opin-
ion. These opinions, however, are interesting and worthy of
1 See House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp.
2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 31-39.
3 Senate Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 6-8.
20- Graduate School Publications.
consideration. Walker asked in the Senate, April 11, 1838, when
the Committee on Foreign relations intended to make a report
on the Mexican relations. He suggested that Congress do as the
French government was doing — send a sufficient squadron to
demand instantaneous redress, and if not granted to blockade the
ports of Mexico.^ Buchanan replied that the committee had
held several informal meetings on the subject and had concluded
to await the action of the House since the next step taken might
be a war measure and such would proceed with better grace from
that body.2 Clay criticised the mission of Greenhow, declaring
that it had not allowed Mexico time enough to examine the papers
and that the whole correspondence had been characterized by a
want of dignity and temper.^ Preston was willing to stand for
any abuse with reference to the pecuniary claims, but for none
where the flag had been insulted.* Benton thought we might
negotiate until doomsday and redress be as far off as ever.^
King counseled caution since he thought many of our claims
would not bear scrutiny.^ This forced Buchanan to acknowledge
that some of the complaints were not well-founded. '^ From the
spirit in which the Senate discussed the question, it seems quite
apparent that no hostile measure would have been sanctioned
even if there had been on foot no plan to submit the claims to
It is impossible even to speculate upon the action the House
might have taken had not Mexico offered to arbitrate. As it
was, it did practically nothing. It was the last day of the session,
July 7, 1838, before the Committee on Foreign Relations made
any report on the Mexican relations. A majority of the commit-
tee then justified Greenhow 's mission and condemned the plan
of arbitration, but offered no resolutions to be passed upon.
Gushing made a minority report favoring the arbitration proposal.*
All possible danger of war, if there had ever been any, was now
1 Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session, pp. 298-299. In 1838
France did resort to war measures against Mexico in order to secure indemnity.
See British and Foreign State Papers. Vol 27, pp. 1176-1214.
2 Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session, p. 299.
^Ibid., p. 299.
* Ibid., p. 300.
^Ibid., p. 300.
^Ibid., p. 300.
' Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session, p. 301.
« House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056 (15 pages).
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 21
passed, and the claims controversy was to be dealt with in an-
Although Congress took no action upon that part of the Presi-
dent's message deahng with the Mexican relations, nevertheless
the subject received very important consideration in another
connection. The House was having its famous stormy session
over the right of petition and freedom of debate. It was at the
close of this session that Adams occupied the greater part of the
morning hour for three weeks in exposing the perfidy of the men
in the government who had been and were being dominated by
the slave interests. In this speech, the whole policy of the United
States towards Mexico was treated in the most caustic manner.^
"The perpetual teasing of the Government of Mexico," he
said, "for cessions of territory, increasing in amount in propor-
tion as the proposals were repelled with disgust; the constant
employment of agents civil and military, for all official inter-
course, with Mexico and Texas, citizens of states most intensely
bent upon the acquisition of Texas, such as Anthony Butler,
Powhatan Ellis, and General Gaines; the uninterrupted inti-
macy with General Houston, from the egg to the apple of the
Texian revolt; the promise to Hutchins G. Burton, of the Gov-
ernment of Texas; the wanton, unprovoked, and unconstitu-
tional discretionary power given to General Gaines to invade
the Mexican territory; the apparent concert between that officer,
in the execution of this authority, with the Texian Commanding
General Houston; the cold indifference to every complaint on
the part of Mexico, against all the violations of our obligations
of amity and neutrality towards her; the disingenious evasion of
a direct answer by the wooden-nutmeg distinction that a direction
not to go beyond Nacogdoches was not equivalent to an authority
to go as far as Nacogdoches; the contemptuous treatment of all
the protests of Mexican minister, Gorostiza, and the prepos-
terous importance attempted to be given to his printing a pam-
phlet in the Spanish language, exposing the bad faith of this
Government in their treatment of his mission, and circulating
a few copies of it before his departure from this country, — in
all these things there is a mutual coincidence and coherence
1 Adams' Speech on the Right, of Petition, Freedom of Speech and Debate,
etc., dehvered in the House from June 16 to July 7, 1838. Not printed in the
Congressional Globe, but published in pamphlet form. Copy in New York
22 Graduate School Publications.
which makes them perpetual commentaries upon each other."
He said Elhs had been ''famishing for Texas," and had been
employed "for the single purpose of giving a relish to these last
resources of pacific and conciliatory councils." He declared
hat no true-hearted citizen of this country could read his letter
to Monasterio of October 20, 1836, and the answer given to
it on the next day without blushing for his country. Of Green-
how's mission, he spoke just as bitterly. This agent, he asserted,
had been sent "with a budget of grievances, good ajid bad,
new and old, stuffed with wrongs, as full as Falstaff's buck-
basket with foul linen, to be turned over under the nose of the
Mexican Secretary of State, with an allowance of one week to
examine, search out, and answer concerning all." "From the
day of the battle of San Jacuito," he maintained, "every move-
ment of the Administration of this Union appears to have been
made for the express purpose of breaking off negotiations and
precipitating a war, or of frightening Mexico by menaces into
cession of not only Texas, but of the whole course of the Rio
del Norte, and five degrees of latitude across the continent to
the South Sea. "^
These statements, taken with the rest of the speech, make it
certain that Adams felt that the whole policy of the United States
towards Mexico had been dictated by slavery interests. They
have been quoted thus at length because they have constituted,
both from the point of fact and from the point of spirit, the
popular interpretation of our policy toward Mexico down to
A careful and impartial study of this policy will permit a
quite different interpretation. In order to show that Jackson
and Van Buren did not try to precipitate a war with Mexico
over the claims for the purpose of acquiring new slave territory,
it becomes necessary to consider briefly the questions which
Adams declared had a mutual coincidence and coherence which
made them perpetual commentaries upon each other.
1 Speech, pp. 117-119 and 126-128. See also Memoirs. Vol. 11, pp. 348-
2 Von Hoist — "The Constitutional and Political History of the United
States." Vols. 2 and 3. Chapters on Mexican War, ■passim; William Jay —
"A Review of the Causes and Consequences of the Mexican War," passim;
A. A. Livermore — "The War with Mexico Reviewed," passim; and Schouler —
"The History of the United States of America under the Constitution."
Vols. 3 and 4, passim.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 23
That Jackson zealously desired the acquisition of Texas,
there can be no possible doubt. Six months after the beginning
of his first administration, he directed Van Buren, Secretary of
State, to instruct the American minister in Mexico to make an
effort to settle the Texas boundary in such a way that United
States would come into possession of Texas. ^ From this time
on untU the close of his second administration, Jackson's interest
in Texas never waned. But that he traitorously plotted because
of his southern prejudice to bring about a situation which would
result in the annexation of that province is a wholly different
question and one which seems incapable of proof.
Adam's charge that Jackson, with Houston as his agent,
connived at the Texas Revolution appears to have been almost
wholly unfounded. It is impossible here to give the evidence
which disproves the accusation; and it is unnecessary, for it
has already been worked out in an admirable and effective
manner.^ When Adams made the charge against Jackson, he
was in the very thickest of his fight over the right of petition;
and it seems quite clear that he allowed his personal feelings
to lead him into an unworthy use of purely circumstantial evi-
Jackson's conduct with reference to Butler's mission cannot
be justified, and yet it was not as bad as Adams made it out to
have been. Jackson sent this dishonorable schemer to Mexico
under instructions to purchase Texas and permitted him to
remain there six years promulgating all sorts of projects to
accomplish his purpose. And when he returned to Washington
in 1835 to lay before the President his plan to secure Texas by
bribing Santa Anna to the amount of a half-million dollars,
Jackson not only did not recall him but sent him back to Mexico
with new instructions to purchase along with Texas a large part
of California.-' While it was Jackson's plain duty to have
recalled Butler, nevertheless he countenanced no one of the
latter's corrupt schemes, but condemned them all. On Novem-
1 House Documents, 2.5th Congress, 1st Session. No. 42, pp. 10-16.
-Eugene C. Barker. '"President Jackson and the Texas Revolution."
American Historical Review. Vol. 12, pp. 788-809.
' For the complete letter, see MSS. Archives. Department of State. In-
structions to agents in Mexico. Vol. 15, pp. 53-54. For whole correspon-
dence, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351,
where extracts are given.
24 Graduate School Publications.
ber 27, 1833, he wrote Butler that while we wanted Texas, the
treaty of cession must be obtained without any imputation of
corruption on our part.^ When Butler wrote his letter of June
17, 1835, laying his scheme before the President, to bribe Santa
Anna to the extent of a half-million dollars for the sake of the
cession, Jackson in his indorsement of the letter said, "Nothing
will be countenanced by the executive to bring this government
under the remotest imputation of being engaged in corruption
or bribery. "2 Jackson deserves severe censure for employing
a man hke Butler, but he should be given the credit for having
thwarted and condemned every one of his dishonorable projects.
The charge that Jackson sent Gaines to Nacogdoches in order
to further his Texas schemes does not appear true. Gaines did
have a passion for Texas, and he was indiscreet in expressing it.*
He was also ready upon the slightest pretext to fight Mexico.*
But while the man was indiscreet and while the policy of permitting
him to enter Mexican territory was unwise since it was bound
to increase hostility and multiply the chances for the violation
of neutrality on our part, nevertheless there is no evidence
that Jackson had any ulterior designs in employing him. On
the contrary, when the correspondence upon which Jackson
based his conduct is carefully studied, there appear good reasons
for his action. The reports in regard to the movements of
Indians made such action seem necessary.^ Gaines was repeat-
edly cautioned to do nothing that might be interpreted as hostile
to Mexico.*^ Jackson opposed Gaines's pohcy of increasing
the forces in the southwest and countermanded his call upon
the Governor of Tennessee for militia, saying that, "To sanction
that requisition for the reasons which accompany it, would
warrant the belief that it was done to aid Texas, and not from
a desire to prevent an infringement of our territorial or national
^ Jackson MSS. Library of Congress.
2 MS Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in Mexico.
3 House Documents, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 256, pp. 42-43.
^ House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp.
* House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp.
771-782 and 792-818.
* House Documents, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 256, pp.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 25
rights."^ In his annual message of December, 1836, Jackson
was frank enough to say that "the sufficiency of the causes
assigned for the advance of our troops by the commanding
general had been seriously doubted by me." ^ In view of these
fact^. Garrison's interpretation of the event seems just; namely,
had it not been for the strained relations between the United
States and Mexico the incident would have passed without
Before taking up the charge that Jackson sent Ellis to Mexico,
because of his slavery prochvitieS; to precipitate a war over
the claims in order to get Texas, it is necessary to state briefly
the history of the Texas question in this country from the open-
ing to the close of the year, 1836. During the closing weeks of
the session extending from December, 1835, to July, 1836,
both tjie questions of recognizing and annexing Texas were
before Congress. After considerable discussion, both houses
resolved in July, "That the independence of Texas ought to
be acknowledged by the United States whenever satisfactory
information shall be received that it has in successful operation
a civil Government, capable of performing the duties and ful-
filhng the obligations of an independent Power." The Senate
adopted this unanimously, and the House passed it by a vote
of one hundred and twenty-eight to twenty. These votes
show that the measure could hardly have been sectional. The
debate shows the same. Some southern members were ready
at once to recognize Texas and receive her into the Union,
notably Calhoun and Preston of South Carolina and Walker
of Mississippi. Calhoun boldly asserted that he desired these
events because they would benefit the South. At the same
time, other members from the slavery states opposed the meas-
ures; for example, Porter of Louisiana, Brown and Magnum
of North Carolina, and King of Alabama.^ Outside of Congress,
the sentiment on the question could not be considered as one
strongly infiuenced by the slavery problem. In June, 1836,
the legislature of Connecticut sent a memorial to Congress
1 Senate Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 60-61.
2 Ibid., p. 4.
3 "Westward Extension," pp. 88-89.
^ For the action of Congress, see Debates in Congress, 24th Congress, Ist
Session. Vol. 12, pp. 1286-1287, 1414-1426, 1455-1457, 1525-1537, 1759-
1763, 1846-1847, 1915-1928 and 4621-4622.
26 Graduate School Publications.
recommending the recognition of Texas; ^ and, later in the same
year, Governor McDuffie of South Carohna sent a message
to the state legislature taking a decided stand against it. The
message also pronounced any attempts at annexation as unwise
and unjust since they would be violations of neutraltiy and
degrading to the national honor. The Senate of the state coin-
cided with the governor's opinions.^
In accordance with the resolution of Congress, Jackson sent
an agent to Texas to investigate political conditions there. On
the basis of reports received from this agent,^ Jackson prepared
a message to Congress which he submitted December 22, 1836.
This message declared that it had been the consistent pohcy
of the United States not to recognize a new government until
it had demonstrated its ability to protect itself. In view of
the threatened invasion of Texas by Mexico, this country could
not, therefore, recognize the new repubhc. We should wait
until some foreign power had done this or until there was no
doubt about Texas's ability to maintain her independence.
The message pointed out that the great desire that existed in this
country for Texa,s made the question extremiely delicate and
one which forced upon us considerations of the gravest character.*
At the very time Jackson submitted this message to Congress,
Ellis was demanding his passports in Mexico. According to
the President's enemies, this "fanatical slavocrat, who had the
acquisition of Texas at heart," had been chosen for the avowed
purpose of precipitating a war over the claims in order that
new territory might be acquired for slavery interests.^ It is
impossible to see any reason in this accusation. If it had been
true, Jackson's message against the acknowledgment of Texas
would have meant that he chose to throw that province back
into the hands of Mexico so that he might win it through a
war as indemnity for claims. This is inconceivable. Had
Jackson made up his mind to get Texas, it certainly would have
been easier for him to recognize the independence of that republic
and induce Congress to annex it than it would have been to go
to war over the claims in order to secure it as indemnity.
1 Debates in Congress, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 12, pp. 1762-1763.
2 Niles' Register. Vol. 51, pp. 229-230, 242 and 277.
3 Senate Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 20.
* Ibid., pp. 1-4.
« See Von Hoist. Vol. 2, p. 592, and Jay, p. 37.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 27
But evidence exists which shows that Jackson was sincere
when he wrote the message against the acknowledgment of
Texas. Six weeks after he submitted it, a situation had arisen
which caused him to change his mind. Texas had threatened
to seek recognition in England and pay for it by valuable com-
mercial concessions. A letter fell into Jackson's hands written
by Colonel Austin which stated this fact and remarked "that
if the United States does not now accept the proposition it may he
forever lost to her.'' Jackson immediately enclosed this letter
in a note to Howard, Chairman of the House Committee on
Foreign Relations; and, after expressing his belief in the truth
of its statements, asked for a private interview. "^ The President
now evidently desired the recognition of Texas; and when the
Senate did acknowledge her independence on March 1, 1837,
Walker took the hberty to enclose the resolution and vote in a
note to Jackson saying that he knew it would give him pleasure
to hear of it.^
Jackson's policy with reference to Texas does not appear to
have had much influence upon his policy with reference to the
claims. Adams thought the two were simply phases of one
grand scheme to annex more slave territory. Jackson's conduct
on the Texas question seems always to have been the result
of a struggle between two powerful motives: one was a desire
for Texas and the other a desire to keep untarnished the national
honor of his country. He was indiscreet in his choice of agents
and he permitted them to do unwise things, but there is no
evidence that he ever gave his assent to a single corrupt act
for the sake of getting Texas. That he was acting in conjunc-
tion with an organized slavery interest cannot be maintained.
Down to the close of his second administration, neither the
sentiment in Congress nor in the country will justify the belief
that there was a slave-state and a free-state line up on the Texas
question. It is true that the South was more interested in it ; but it
does not appear that this was a consciously organized one.
The motives for Jackson's so-called war message of February
6, 1837, need not be sought in the Texas affair; they were in
the man himself.^ Mexico had procrastinated with reference
1 Jackson MSS. Library of Congress. Letter dated February 2, 1837.
^Ibid., Letter dated March 1, 1837.
3 See Garrison, "Westward Extension," p. 191. Also see Rives. Vol. 1
28 Groduate School Pnhlicaiions.
to the claims and she had approved Gorostiza's conduct which
Jackson thought contemptible. Jackson hated weak measures
and so he did with Mexico as he had done with France a few
years before, recommended one more chance to settle complaints
and after that war.
Van Buren's policy was essentially the same as Jackson's.
It seems very probable that he helped Jackson prepare his
message of December 22, 1836, on the recognition of Texas. ^
It is certain that he approved of Jackson's message of February
6. 1837. Greenhow's mission in the summer of 1837 was still
a part of Jackson's measures. By this time the annexation
question had become an important one. Hunt, the Texas
minister in Washington, had made, on August 4, formal pro-
posals for joining Texas to the Union. ^ On August 25, Forsj'th
flatly refused the overture, not even consenting to reserve it
for future consideration.^ The question came up in Congress
during the session from December, 1837, to July, 1838, and was
soon merged into the struggle over the right of petition.^ There
■was now a slave-state and free-state line up on the question.
It was in the midst of this fight that Adams divulged the great
conspiracy that had been in process against INIexico for nearly
a decade. But, outside of the fact that Van Buren's adminis-
tration allowed Mexico only one week to give satisfaction for
fifty-seven claims, there is not the slightest evidence that any-
thing else unjust or unfair to Mexico was done. The President
was certainly not scheming for Texas since his refusal of it was
absolutely positive. The manner in which he placed the matter
before Congress in his annual message of December, 1837,
was cautious and dignified.
In the light of these facts, the following conclusions appear
true: "Jackson's and Van Buren's attitude toward Texan
' Among the Van Buren MSS in Librarj' of Congress exists the following
note nnaddressed and undated: "The great and delicate question of , shall
we acknowledge the independence of Texas, — is the evidence contained in
the report of our confidential agent, Mr. MoflFet, sufficient to show that Texas
hajB a de facto Gov't and the means to support it — See the resolutions of Con-
gress & compare the facts contained in the report with it — report on which
the Independence of South America was acknowledged."
2 House Dociunents, 25th Congress, 1st Session. No. 40, pp. 2-11.
= Ihid., pp. 11-13.
* Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 6.
3nmefS3xfitm. ff^A 'switiotia. pmieax. and 'o»mfip^ in \^is^ ^rnK^i-
pies- Than xiife ^ne ^drtmad jtiwiri ^
of 'ilaima "" --"'-» 'iflca r. — - -—-- _ ^__ ^^
B»ir=^ "if '>r h"^' -^35.
r ' . as a ^loaa lor var by -s^iich.
^.. - ^ .. zha reverse may be -caEed
mrh- The- a»5e?i - - -he- T~njT*>^ '*rar*^ tai v^ftmri:
wiier=: .1 - - ,. ,.- _; _.. ,_ _.^.:.„-, , ,-
made -v-JniiGiii: anT ^asDidott : ' -
The Claims Referred to Arbitration — 1838-1842
On May 20, 1837, the President of Mexico proclaimed the
decree of the General Congress offering to submit the claims to
arbitration. The first of its two articles simply made the propo-
sal; but the second added that "The Government is also author-
ized, in case the United States should deny the satisfaction which
we should ask on our part, or delay it beyond the time which
shall be fixed conformably with treaty, or should continue the
open aggressions already committed, to close the ports to the trade
of that nation; to prohibit the introduction and use of its manu-
factures; to establish a period for the consumption or exportation
of those already on hand; and to take all measures required for
the purpose, and for the safety of the repubhc." ^ This decree
was evidently intended to furnish an answer to Jackson's war-
like message of February 6.
It was seven months before a notice of this action of the Mexi-
can Congress was given to the United States, notwithstanding
the fact that there were numerous events occurring which ought
to have called it forth. Forsyth's last demand for satisfaction,
made through Greenhow in the summer of 1837, was answered
by the Mexican government on July 29, but with no mention of
the offer of arbitration. In October, Martinez, the new Mexican
minister, reached Washington and was acknowledged; but in
his correspondence with this government during the month of
November, he never mentioned the decree. Forsyth's war-like
report of December 2 and Van Buren's annual message of a few
days later both appeared and failed to call forth a notice of the
proposal. It was December 22 before it was presented to this
government; and then four months pass by before anything is
heard of it again. On April 7, 1838, Martinez wrote Forsyth
that the President of Mexico was convinced that arbitration was
the most effectual method of settling the difficulties. Two weeks
later Forsyth agreed to accept the offer. On April 30, Martinez
suggested the King of Prussia as umpire ; and on May 10 Forsyth
1 House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 31
assented. But as yet neither government had empowered its
agents to sign an agreement. This was done so that by the first
of September a convention was under preparation.^
This convention was signed on September 10, 1838. It pro-
vided that all the claims of citizens of the United States upon
the Mexican government, for which interposition had been
solicited up to the time of the signing of the convention, should
be referred to a commission consisting of four members, each
government appointing two. The board was to meet in Washing-
ton three months after the exchange of ratifications and was to
have eighteen months in which to complete its work. Each
government agreed to furnish all necessary documents in its
possession. When the claims were adjusted and awards made,
Mexico was to be allowed the privilege of issuing certificates
of debt in case she did not have the money with which to pay.
In the event that the commissioners disagreed upon any claim,
they were to draw up, jointly or severally, a report stating in
detail the points on which they differed and the grounds for their
respective opinions; and such reports were to be sent, with the
documents connected with them, to an umpire appointed by the
King of Prussia. His decision was to be final; and conse-
quently Mexico was to be exonerated from all claims that were re-
jected. Each government agreed to bear half of the contingent
expenses of the commission. Ratifications were to be exchanged
within five months.^
On the clay that the convention was signed Martinez wrote
Forsyth asking him certain specific questions; whether the Presi-
dent refused to submit to arbitration six of the claims; whether
the government of the United States demanded that Mexico
withdraw her approval of Gorostiza's conduct in reference to the
pamphlet; and whether this country would abstain from sending
to Mexico the diplomatic agent already appointed while these
complaints remained unsatisfied.^ Forsyth answered three days
later. He said that his government refused to permit eight of
the claims to go before the board since they were of such a nature
that they directly affected the national character. He also de-
clared that Gorostiza's offense would have to be adjusted before
1 House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056.
2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 6, No. 252, pp. 27-32.
^Ibid., pp. 15-16.
32 Graduate School Publications.
the minister would be commissioned to Mexico.^ Martinez
assented to these conditions; Gorostiza's conduct was disavowed;
and, on February 15, 1839, ElHs received his commission as
minister to Mexico.^ Full diplomatic relations between the two
countries were again restored.
The progress of the arbitration measure, which now seemed
so promising, was soon to be completely frustrated for the time
being by another event. Mexico failed to ratify the convention
within the period set, assigning as her reasons the want of time
and the fact that she had understood that the King of Prussia
refused to act as arbitrator.^ Considerable question now arose
in regard to Mexico's good faith. Jones, one of the consuls in
Mexico, declared that the matter of ratification was purposely
delayed so that the notice of rejection would not reach this coun-
try until after the adjournment of Congress.^ About the last
of February, 1839, the House called for documents on the Mexi-
can relations; and, in reply. Van Buren sent the convention of
September 10, 1838, and the correspondence connected with it.
On March 2, 1839, the Committee on Foreign Relations made a
report, resolving that Mexico had not assigned sufficient reasons
for the failure to ratify, that our minister in Mexico ought to
be instructed to urge a speedy and definite settlement of the
claims, and that the House would sustain the executive in any
measures he deemed necessary in case the demand were refused
or unreasonably delayed.^
Although Van Buren was not entirely satisfied with the course
pursued by Mexico, he accepted her explanation in regard to the
failure to ratify the convention; and, as he himself said, cheerfully
consented to conclude a new one.^ Forsyth and Martinez were
given by their respective governments power to conclude a new
agreement; and on April 11, 1839, they succeeded in doing so.
This differed from that of a year before only in minor detail.
In order to avoid the things which had presumably caused the
1 Ibid., pp. 16-17, 13-14 and 18.
^Ibid., pp. 17-18 and 26.
3 House Documents, 25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 6, No. 252, pp. 21-22.
'Ibid., p. 22.
5 Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 7. House Reports,
25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 2, No. 321.
8 Annual Message, December 2, 1839. House Documents, 26th Congress,
1st Session. Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 6.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 33
failure of the earlier convention, the latter provided that ratifi-
cations might be exchanged at any time within one year and that,
if the King of Prussia refused to appoint an umpire, the Queen
of England or the King of Netherlands might do so. The new-
convention was duly ratified and, on April 8, 1840, the President
proclaimed it in effect.'^
On June 12, 1840, Congress passed an act to carry it into
execution. The salary of each commissioner was fixed at three
thousand dollars a year and that of their secretary at two thou-
sand a year. The President was given authority to provide for
all the contingent expenses of the commission falling on this
government and the free use of the mails was extended to it for
all its official business. The members of the board were, at the
close of their work, to make a report to the Secretary of State
and deposit their records with him. It also stipulated the method
of distributing the awards; and, in apparent non-conformity
with the convention, made it impossible for any claimant to get
his money until the close of the board's work.-
The President of the United States appointed W. L. Marcy
and John Rowan as commissioners; and the President of Mexico
selected Pedro F. del Castillo and D. Joaquin Velazquez de Leon.
Baron Roenne, the Prussian minister in Washington, was made
umpire. In the meantime, Forsyth instructed Ellis (May 3,
1839) to press the settlement of the eight claims that this country
refused to submit to arbitration. The way now seemed clear
for an adjustment of all complaints.
The board held its first session August 17, 1840, and from this
time until August 25 the proceedings of each day were taken up
with a discussion over the vahdity of the oaths of the Mexican
commissioners. The convention had not provided the method
of taking them, and the Mexican government had left the ques-
tion open for the mutual consent of both parties. The American
commissioners had taken theirs before the proper authorities.
1 House Documents, 26th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 4, No. 190.
2 House Reports, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 1096. The
last provision caused considerable trouble. In the summer of 1841, Coxe,
Causten, and Key memoriahzed Congress on behalf of the claimants to let
them have their money as soon as the awards were made. Webster, Buchanan,
and the Secretary of the Treasury thought their demand just. See Executive
Documents and Reports of Committees, 27th Congress, 1st Session. Vol.
10, pp. 254, 258, 273, 312, and 399.
34 Graduate School Publications.
The Mexican commissioners appeared in Washington without
certificates of oath; and being unwiUing to submit themselves
to an American officer, they administered their oaths to one
another and then had their secretary take his before them.
Certificates to this effect were presented to the board. The
American members questioned the validity of this, holding
"that an oath to be valid must be administered by a public
functionary duly authorized to perform that act." They main-
tained that this power did not reside in a minister unless given
by special delegation; and more than this, the commissioners
were appointed to act jointly while the administering of an oath
was a several act. This they considered a very important ques-
tion since the whole validity of the work of the commission
might rest upon it. The Mexican commissioners would not
concede to the suggestion that they take their oaths before an
American officer, since they came in a twofold capacity — as com-
missioners and as plenipotentiaries — and as such they enjoyed
the immunities which international law allowed them. They
declared that their government had given them special instruc-
tions to settle the question of oaths, and that this delegation of
power was in strict accordance with the constitutional law of
their country. To settle the matter and remove all doubt they
agreed to send their certificates to their government and have
them ratified. The American commissioners accepted this prop-
osition, and the board was duly organized on August 25, 1840.^
From this time until October 7 the board discussed rul s of
procedure. On August 31, the American commissioners sub-
mitted for adoption a project of eight rules. The most impor-
tant of these provided that the board should sit daily from ten in
the morning until three in the afternoon; that the form of pro-
cedure should be judicial and not of a forensic or diplomatic
character; that claimants or their agents should be permitted
when requested to present to the board the facts and documents
connected with their cases; and that the position of the members
of the board should be selected with an eye to convenience and
"without indicating inequality." ^ Two of these proposed rules
received heated discussion; the one relating to the nature of the
1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 93-102.
2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320 pp. 104-
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 35
board and the other concerning the appearance of the claimants
or their agents before it.
The American commissioners took the ground that the board
was a judicial and not a diplomatic body. They argued that
this point ought to be determined in order that the parties con-
cerned might understand one another and harmonize in their
action and also that the claimants might know in what manner
to address the commission. They held that the convention
evidently intended the board to be a tribunal since, in article
one, it prescribed the oath to be that of examining and deciding
the claims impartially, and, in article four, it enjoined upon the
commissioners the duty of adjusting the complaints according
to the principles of justice, the law of nations, and the stipulations
of the treaty of amity. Such duties as these were neither legis-
lative nor executive, and, therefore, they had to be judicial.
Diplomacy had ceased when the convention was signed; the very
aim of the commission was to supersede further diplomacy. The
plenipotentiary powers of the Mexican commissioners were in
excess of the aim of the treaty, and consequently had nothing
to do with the duties of the board. The Mexican commissioners
took the position that the board was a diplomatic body. They
maintained that it was unnecessary to determine the nature of
the commission since the convention had done that. It said
nothing about a tribunal, but always spoke of a board; it said
nothing about judging, but always used the word adjusting.
This convention was a public treaty, the parties to it were sover-
eign, "and as such, recognize no earthly tribunal that possesses
the right of judging their actions, since nations, by the fact of
their being in the exercise of their independence and sovereignty,
cannot constitute themselves into judges, the one of the other." The
American commissioners gave up the discussion as useless, de-
claring that it had dwindled down into a question of name rather
than of nature.^
1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 107-
157 See also pp. 212-215. Webster took side with American commissioners.
The Mexican commissioners wrote him asking about the jurisdiction of the
board with reference to certain claims. On January 21, 1842, he said in
reply: "The mixed commission . . . has always been considered by this
Government essentially a judicial tribunal, with independent attributes and
powers in regard to its pecuhar functions. . . . The Government of the
Mexican republic has seen fit to confer the rank and title of plenipotentiary
upon its commissioners, and its right to do so is admitted; but it is considered
that this does not alter the nature of their fvmctions." Ibid., pp. 185-186.
36 Graduate School Publications.
In regard to the access of the claimants to the board, the
American commissioners held that those who had claims had
the right to present their cases either in person or through agents,
providing they did so in both the Spanish and Enghsh languages.
They maintained that the two parties before the board were
not the nations. The United States government had interposed
in behalf of its citizens having claims only so far as to co-operate
in erecting a tribunal or board for adjusting them, but had not
taken upon itself the labor of presenting their cases. The
parties in interest were the litigants, the claimants were the
plaintiff, the State of Mexico the defendant, and the board the
judge. The inherent right of man to be heard before a court
either by parol or in writing was a principle so deeply set in the
minds of Americans that it could not be conceded. The Mexi-
can commissioners, on the contrary, insisted that the two nations
were the parties before the board. The United States govern-
ment had, therefore, assumed the cases of its citizens having
claims. They held that the convention was plain on this point
since it had stipulated that all papers called for must be sent
to the Department of State at Washington from whence the
board would secure them. More than this, it would be highly
injurious to the claimants themselves to permit them to appear
before the commission since it would protract the discussions
and delay adjustment.^
The whole subject of discussion involved in the adoption of
rules was a nice one, but it was altogether too scholastic and too
far removed from the plain and practical objects of the commis-
sion. As Webster said, the discussion had been over "very
unimportant and even idle formalities." ^ On October 5, the
board did agree on five rules, but no one of them covered any
of the points that had been under discussion. They all related
to comparatively insignificant matters.^
The board adjourned on October 7 to give the secretaries
time to list the claims and arrange the documents connected
with them. This took until December 21, and on this day
1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp.
107-157. Also pp. 215-220.
2 Works (National Edition). Vol. 18, pp. 136-138.
3 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 37
the sessions were again resumed.^ The next day the question
of access came up again. The counsel for a claimant asked
to present a case before the board. A vote was taken and
resulted in a tie. The Mexican commissioners now offered the
following resolution for adoption: "That whatever written ex-
planations, documents, or petitions, the claimants or their agents
may desire to present to the board in support of the justice of
the claims which are submitted to its investigation, will be re-
ceived and considered, coming to the board through the Depart-
ment of State." ^ The American commissioners gave way and
voted for this assigning as their reason the fact that the conven-
tion would have been rendered abortive since their Mexican
colleagues would have never given in on the point.^ On Decem-
ber 23, another rule was adopted making the claimants submit
all their papers in both the Spanish and English languages.* The
board investigated the first claim on December 28. Four months
had been consumed in getting ready.
During the next year, 1841, the first five months were con-
sumed in the disposition of twelve claims, upon eleven of which
the commissioners disagreed and appealed to the umpire.^ The
claimants now became so dilatory in presenting their cases that
the board was compelled to notify them through the public
prints to hasten the preparation of their documents. The notice
said that while more than half the time allowed the commission
had expired, not one-half the claims which it had been organized
to adjust had been presented.^ Rowan resigned August 9, and
three days later the board adjourned until his place was filled.
President Tyler appointed H. M. Brackenridge to the vacancy
August 23, but it was September 20 before the sessions were
In consequence of so many delays, the greater part of the
work of the board was done in the last few weeks and even in
the last few days of its sessions. A letter and report from the
umpire to the commission on the last day of its meeting, Feb-
1 Ibid., p. 157. 3 Ibid., p. 159.
2 Ibid., pp. 158-159. " Ibid., p. 159.
^Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 1, No. 61.
* Notice quoted by Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, p. 1234.
Notice dated June 16, 1841.
^ Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, pp. 1235-1236.
38 Graduate School Publications.
ruary 25, 1842, show that twelve claims were submitted to him
in January, 1842, seventeen in the first fifteen days of February,
and eighteen more from February 19 to 24, inclusive. Forty-
seven claims were, therefore, submitted to him in the last fifty-
two days of the board's sessions. The eighteen submitted to
him after February 19 were returned without decision because
of a want of time.^ According to a letter which the Mexican
commissioners sent to Webster on March 18, 1842, eighty-four
claims in all were presented to the commission.^ If this be cor-
rect, then over half the claims which the board investigated were
disposed of in the last two months of its sessions.
The actual results of the board's work may be gotten from
the following summary:
1. Amount of claims decided by the board without reference
to the umpire.
a. Amount claimed $595,462.75
b. Amount allowed $439,393.82
2. Rejected on their merits at the board.
a. Amount claimed $51,492 . 25
3. Decided by the board not to be within the convention.
a. Amount claimed $9,278 . 26
4. Claims on which the board differed, which were reported to
the umpire for decision, and on which allowance was made.
a. Amount claimed $5,844,260.44
b. Allowed by American commissioners $2,334,477 . 44
c. Allowed by Mexican commissioners . . . $191,012 . 94
d. Allowed by umpire $1,586,745.86
5. Rejected by the umpire on their merits.
a. Amount claimed $59,967 . 40
b. Allowed by American $57,754 . 42
6. Decided by the umpire not to be within the cognizance of the
a. Amount claimed $88,351 .78
b. Allowed by American commissioners. .$86,080.01
7. Returned by the umpire undecided.
a. Amount claimed $1,864,939.56
b. Allowed by American commissioners . $928,627 . 88
8. Cases submitted too late to be considered by the board.
a. Amount claimed $3,336,837.05
1 Senate Documents, 27th Congre33, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 77-79.
^lUd., pp. 201-204.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 39
a. Total amount of claims presented $11,850,589.49
b. Total amount of claims undecided. .$5,201,776.61
c. Total amount of awards $2,026,139. 68^
On February 26, the Mexican commissioners wrote Webster
that they had tried, on the last day of the board's session, to
have a minute adopted to the effect that their government had
done all in its power to fulfill every duty contracted by it in the
convention. They desired this minute in order that the respon-
sibility for any failure on the part of the commission might rest
on those who had occasioned it. They severely criticised the
conduct of the claimants, saying that they had not, in spite of
the multiplied notices, presented their claims in due time and
in complete form. They had been negligent throughout the
greater part of the period of the board's existence and had become
active during only the last few days of its sessions. Here, they
thought, lay the causes for any failure that might be attributed
to the commission.^
This letter came into the possession of the American commis-
sioners through Webster; and on March 2 they wrote him a
reply to the charges made by their colleagues. Wholly different
causes were assigned for the failure of the commission. The
first four months of its sessions had been wasted in a fruitless
discussion of rules for procedure. Many of the cases presented
in time for action had been postponed until the close of the ses-
sion because the documents connected with them had to be
secured from Mexico. Others of these cases were refused con-
sideration by the Mexican commissioners for a long time on the
ground that they were not certain that the board had jurisdic-
tion over them. " In at least seven-eighths of the cases submitted
to the commissioners, they differed upon the essential merits of
them, and this contrariety of opinion involved the necessity of
consuming much of their time in preparing elaborate reports to
the umpire." The delay of the claimants to present their cases
was excused on the ground that for a long time they had no rules
1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320. Or
House Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 291. The above
figures represent the totals, that is, principal and interest.
2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 195-
40 Graduate School Puhlicaiions.
to guide them and on the ground that the great differences be-
tween the commissioners had led to the belief that the conven-
tion would not be carried into effect. More than this, the
indirect and circuitous manner that was devised for the presenta-
tion of their cases had discouraged them.^
Another point of controversy arose over the disposition to be
made of the documents in possession of the board. On Feb-
ruary 26, 1842, the American commissioners notified Webster
that the Mexican commissioners would not consent to any regu-
lation in regard to the disposal of the documents, and had plan-
ned to take part of them to Mexico.- Webster informed them
on March 17, that, according to the act of June 12, 1840, the
documents or copies of them should be left with the Department
of State at Washington.^ The next day the Mexican commis-
sioners replied that they could not consent to give up all their
papers; that those which were records of the Mexican courts
must be kept; and that to give them up would be to defraud their
government of its right to know what had been done.* The
question was dropped, but some of the documents were carried
away by the Mexican commissioners.
According to the act of June 12, 1840, the American commis-
sioners prepared a long and careful report to the Secretary of
State, which was submitted April 23, 1842. In most respects
it was an elaboration of the points contained in their letter to
Webster on March 2. It, however, admitted that considerable
delay had been occasioned by the failure of the claimants to
present their cases in time. It emphasized the fact that the
preparation of reports to the umpire had constituted a large
part of the board's work, the American commissioners alone
having sent him fifteen hundred closely written pages. Mexico's
conduct in withholding documents which had been called for
by the board was severely criticised. One description con-
tained in the report was especially illuminating. "The rapid
succession of chieftains," it said, "and the revolution of power
in that country, made it exceedingly difficult in some instances
to determine whether the wrongdoers were the functionaries
of the existing power, rebels against that power, revolutionists,
1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 195-
2 /bid., pp. 194-195. 3 7Wd., pp. 197-198. " /6id., pp. 201-204.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 41
while the country was in a state of anarchy, or lawless depreda-
tors assuming to be clothed with authority, merely to facilitate
the perpetration of wrong. The questions which arose required
the consideration and application of the laws of nations, the
principles of the commercial code, the discussion of the municipal
laws of Mexico, and the revision of the acts of her domestic
tribunals. On the subject of the municipal laws, the greatest
difficulties were experienced. The actual legislation of Mexico
as a sovereign power, was exceedingly imperfect. It did not
afford a system of laws. What ordinances of Spain, or decrees
of the code of the Indies, were in force in Mexico after its emanci-
pation, was not explicitly declared by any act brought to the
notice of the board. The decisions of the tribunals tended rather
to confuse than to clear up this matter. The unsettled state of
things in Mexico was as much evinced by the condition of her
judicial establishments, as by anything else. The shiftings of
political power caused a like instability in her tribunals; their
records were voluminous and obscure; and it was sometimes
exceedingly difficult to ascertain the true state of facts, even as
they appeared before the courts, or the distinct principles of
law upon which these courts placed their adjudication." This
report constitutes the only authoritative statement of the prob-
lems which the commission faced; and, in spite of the fact that
it takes the American point of view, it must be conceded that
it seems fair and reasonable.^
Like the other subjects of discussions between United States
and Mexico prior to the Mexican War, the convention and the
commission under it have been subjected to much bitter criticism.
The commissioners, especially those of the Mexican govern-
ment, have been abused; the umpire has been severely censured;
and the claims which the board investigated have been ridiculed.
The claimants repeatedly attacked all the commissioners; ^
the House Committee on Foreign Relations pronounced the
course pursued by the Mexican commissioners as one "of most
questionable validity";^ and Webster called it in some respects
very extraordinary, saying that "Spanish punctilio was run out
1 Report given in Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4,
No. 320, pp. 208-255.
2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 1-89.
3 House Reports, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 1096, p. 22.
42 Graduate School Publications.
to its extremest." ^ Perhaps the commissioners do deserve some
censure, since they wasted much time over fooUsh discussions
and disagreed in toto on most of the claims. Nevertheless, their
failure to adjust the complaints does not lie so much in this as
in the dilatory conduct of the claimants and in the almost in-
surmountable difficulties which the investigation afforded. The
minutes of the board and the reports of its findings both bear
throughout marks of an earnest desire on the part of its members
to do their duty.
The claimants censured the umpire so severely that President
Tyler had to vindicate him in a message to Congress.- So far
as Baron Roenne's conduct was concerned, nobody had any
right to judge since he corresponded with no one except his own
government regarding the reasons which led him to make his
respective decisions. This correspondence was secret and has
always remained so. Twice our government has tried to secure
it from the Prussian archives, but without success.^
There has been no end to the criticism and ridicule that has
been heaped upon the claims themselves.* No doubt much of
it has been just. Yet it must be conceded that their validity
was submitted to the best known test, arbitration, which re-
sulted in a plain verdict that they were not wholly bad. The
commissioners and umpire rendered a definite decision on claims
amounting to $6,648,812.88. Of this amount they rejected on
the basis of merits only $111,459.65, and on the remainder, they
rendered awards amounting to $2,026,139.68. Nearly one third
of the amount claimed was, therefore, considered valid; and, as
claims usually go, this was not a bad showing. No opinion, of
course, can be given on the claims left undecided or submitted
too late for investigation. So far as the individual claims were
concerned, the reports of the board and umpire show that they
were mostly worthy. Only eight of them were rejected on merit
and ten on the ground of jurisdiction. Subtracting these eight-
een from the whole number decided, which was fifty-four, leaves
1 Works (National Edition). Vol. 18, pp. 136-138.
2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 412.
' Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, pp. 1238-1240.
* For example, see Von HoLst. Vol. 2, pp. 60-5-606 and Schouler (Revised
Edition). Vol. 4, p. 445.
Claims as a Cavsc of the Mexican War. 43
thirty-six that were at least in part good.^ In view of tiiese facts,
it is entirely unfair to ridicule or condemn the claims as a whole.
There is other criticism of the convention and commission
however, which has greater significance. In December, 1840,
Adams said, "The convention itself and all the proceedings of
the commissioners are of so very extraordinary a character that
I cannot resist a very strong suspicion that it was intended by
the Van Buren administration, not to obtain indemnification for
citizens of the United States upon Mexico, but to keep open the
sore and breed a war with Mexico, as machinery for the annexa-
tion of Texas to the United States. There is not a step in the
whole series of transactions which has a tendenc}^ to the satis-
faction or even to the adjustment of the claims. The convention
itself is a mockery, the commission under it an imposture." ^ A
year and a half later, after Tyler had become President, he reit-
erated this charge.^ Linn of New York made a speech in the
House on April 13, 1842, in which he stated exactly the same
thought. He said the United States would never have tobrated
the fooHsh procedure of the Mexican commissioners, nor have
allowed the board to continue, had it not been for a desire to get
Texas.'* The same idea is implied in the following quotation
from Jay: "Every man who had been in Mexico for the last
twenty years, and could manufacture a wrong, was virtually
invited to come forward and try his luck. There is also strong
reason to believe that, when at the end of the first nine months
all cases ready had been heard, it was found that the result would
be so insignificant as to cast contempt and ridicule upon the
Cabinet; and that, therefore, great efforts were made to induce
reckless speculators and adventurers to come forward with claims
which would at least swell the unliquidated claims, and furnish
ground for continued and irritating complaint." ^
These accusations usher in a new period in the history of the
relations between United States and Mexico. The closing
months of the commission witnessed the revival of the desire
1 Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, p. 1244.
2 Memoirs. Vol. 11, p. 43. December 24, 1840.
^Ibid., p. 209. July 15, 1842.
* Congressional Globe, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Appendix, pp. 513-
' Jay, pp. 71-72.
44 Graduate School Publications.
on the part of the administration in this country to secure Texas;
and the old enemies of annexation were immediately on the
ground with their charges of conspiracy. To them, of course,
the commission had been a farce; and all because the administra-
tion had ulterior designs. They never cited a single item of
evidence to justify their position so far as it related to the plan
of arbitration. Nearly all of the claims with which the com-
mission dealt were of long standing; and there is no evidence
whatever which would show that any new one had been manu-
factured for the purpose of embarrassing the board or under-
mining it. In view of these facts, it seems but fair to discharge
these accusations as unfounded. The other phase of the charges,
relating to designs upon Texas, belongs to the history of succeed-
Tyler and the Claims — 1842-1845
The keynote of Tyler's administration was expansion. Henry
A. Wise records an interview which he had with him shortly after
he had succeeded to the Presidency and says that he referred to
the annexation of Texas as the all-important measure of his
administration.^ On October 11, 1841, he sounded Webster on
the question. "I give you a hint," said the letter, "as to the.
possibility of acquiring Texas by treaty. I verily believe it
cou)d be done, could the North be reconciled to it; would any-
thing throw so bright a lustre around us? It seems to me that the
great interests of the North would be incalculably advanced
by such an acquisition. Slavery — I know that is the objection,
and it would be well founded if it did not already exist among
us, but my belief is that a rigid enforcement of the laws against
the slave trade, would in time make as many free states South
as the acquisition of Texas would add slave states, and then
the future (distant it might be) would present wonderful results."^
More than this, Tyler seems also to have had his eyes turned
in the direction of California. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy
and the President's intimate friend, recommended in his report
of December 4, 1841, that the Pacific squadron be increased
in view of the many interests that Americans had on that coast.'
There seems to be good reasons for believing that Commodore
Jones was sent to the Pacific in accordance with this recommen-
dation. Lyon G. Tyler, the President's son and his most enthu-
siastic biographer, does not deny that this may have been the
The designs of the administration were soon to be made public
and in the most exaggerated form. Early in 1842 Tyler recalled
Ellis from Mexico and nominated Waddy Thompson of South
Carolina to the mission. On April 13, 1842, Linn of New York
1 Lyon G. Tyler. "The Letters and Times of the Tylers." Vol. 2, p. 254.
2 Van Tyne. Letters of Daniel Webster, p. 240.
^ Congressional Globe, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Appendix, p. 16.
«Lyon G. Tyler. "The Letters and Times of the Tylers." Vol. 2, pp.
46 Gradiuite School Publications.
moved in the House that the appropriation for the Mexican post
be withdrawn, assigning as his reason the fact that the aim of
the mission was to secure Texas. This so thoroughly aroused
Wise that on the next day he made a sensational speech, saying
things that he perhaps had no right to say. He stated that Texas
alone was too weak to resist the invasion that Mexico was then
planning against her; but that if it were once understood that
Texas aimed to conquest the rich states to the South, thousands
of hardy men from the Mississippi valley would flock to her
standards and soon plant the lone star banner on the Mexican
Capitol. He declared that if he had five million dollars he him-
self would attempt the work, secure a fourfold indemnity for
the claims of American citizens, and "place California where all
the great powers of Great Britain would never be able to reach it.'
Adams immediately took up the question and raised again the
cry of conspiracy. He thought Wise, being of the inner circle
of Tyler's advisers, had babbled the whole project of the admin-
istration. A war was going to follow and Mexico was to be
plundered of a great part of her territory. The claims were to
be a pretext for this war; and the whole movement was to be
the work of slavery men for slavery interests.- On March 3, 1843,
Adams, Giddings, and eleven other members of the House issued
an address to the free states of the Union, quoting Wise's speech
and other evidence regarding the conspiracy, and warning the
North to be on its guard, since the slavery interests were going
to accomplish their purpose even if it destroyed the Union. ^
Once more, it is the old question whether the United States
was going to precipitate a war over the claims if it were found
necessary to do so in order to get slave territory. Van Hoist, ^
Schoufer,^ and a host of others give almost complete credence
to Adams' interpretation. The facts, however, will not com-
pletely bear Adams out in his views. In part, he did divine the
situation aright: he saw that Tyler was bound to extend the
United States to the southwest. But his slavery antipathies led
him to read things into the movement which do not seem to have
1 Niles' Register. Vol. 64, p. 174.
2 Memoirs. Vol. 11, pp. 209, 343 and 353.
3 Niles' Register. Vol. 64, pp. 173, 175.
< Van Hoist. Vol. 2, p. 627.
« Schouler. Vol. 4 (Revised Edition), pp. 443-462.
Chii?ns as a Cause of the Mexican War. 47
been there. Neither the claims nor slavery played exactly the
part that he thought they were going to play.
Tyler's first plan for securing territory appears to have been
one which very few at that time knew anything about. This
was to trade the claims for Texas and California. Thompson's
first despatch to Washington, dated April 29, 1842, went aside
from the main subject with which it dealt to discuss the ques-
tion of acquiring territory. "I believe," said the letter, "that
this Government would cede to us Texas and the Californias,
and I am thoroughly satisfied that it is all we shall ever get for
the claims of our merchants on this country. As to Texas I
regard it as of but little value compared with California — the
richest, the most beautiful and the healthiest country in the
world. ... In addition to which California is destined to
be the granary of the Pacific. It is a country in which slavery
is not necessary, and therefore, if that is made an objection, let
there be another compromise. France and England both have
had their eyes upon it; — The latter has yet. . . . If I could
mingle any selfish feelings with interests to my country so vast,
I would desire no higher honor than to be an instrument in se-
On May 9, he wrote the President in the same vein. "Since
my first despatch to Mr. Webster," ran the letter, "I have had
an interview with General Santa Anna and although I did not
broach to him directly the subject of our correspondence I have
but little doubt that I shall be able to accomplish your wishes
and to add also the acquisition of Upper California. This latter
I believe will be by far the most important event that has oc-
curred to our country. Do me the favor to read my despatch to
Mr. Webster in which my views of the matter are briefly sketched.
I should be most happy to illustrate your administration and my
own name by an acquisition of such lasting benefit to my country.
Upon this subject I beg your special instructions both as to
moving in the matter and the extent to which I am to go in the
negotiations and the amount to be paid. The acquisition of
Upper California will reconcile the Northern people as they
have large fishing and commercial interests in the Pacific. . . .
1 MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in
Mexico. Vol. 11.
48 Graduate School Publications.
Be pleased also to have me pretty strongly instructed on the
subject of claims or leave the responsibility to me."^
Webster replied on June 27, saying, "That part of your des-
patch No. 1 relative to California and your private letter to the
President of the 9th of May have been considered. ... In
seeking acquisitions, to be governed as Territories, and lying
at a great distance from the United States we ought to be gov-
erned by our prudence and caution; and a still higher degree of
these qualities should be exercised when large Territorial acqui-
sitions are looked for, with a view to annexation. Nevertheless,
the benefit of the possession of a good Harbour on the Pacific is
so obvious, that to that extent, at least, the President strongly
inclines to favor the idea of a treaty with Mexico. . . . You
are at liberty to sound the Mexican Government upon the subject
of a cession of the Territory upon the Pacific, in satisfaction of
those claims, or some of them. ... I do not think that
England has any present purpose of obtaining that important
place, or would interpose any obstacle to the acquisition of it by
the United States. What may be the wishes of France in this
respect, I cannot say. You will please proceed in this matter
very cautiously, and quite formally; seeking rather to lead the
Mexican Secretary to talk on the subject, than to lead directly
to it yourself. You will be particularly careful not to suffer the
Mexican Government to suppose that it is an object upon which
we have set our hearts, or for the sake of which we should be
willing to make large remuneration. The cession must be spoken
of rather as a convenience to Mexico, or as a mode of discharging
her debts." 2
In view of the fact that Mexico had taken no steps toward the
payment of the awards made by the commission, and in view
of the fact also that the undecided claims as well as new ones
were being urged against her, it might have been reasonably
hoped that she would at least consider Webster's proposal. But
the proposition was scarcely out of his hands when he received
a most sharp and hostile note from Bocanegra, the Mexican Sec-
retary of State, denouncing the United States for openly and
publicly ignoring the obligations of neutrality with reference to
1 MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in
Mexico. Vol. 11.
2 Van Tyne. Letters of Daniel Webster, pp. 269-270.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 49
Mexico's renewed attempt to put down the rebellion in Texas
and bring that province back under her control.^ Webster gave
the note a masterly reply on July 8; ' but the event went a long
way toward destroying the plan of trading the claims for terri-
tory. Whatever hopes of its success may have remained were
soon to be completely blasted by another incident. Commodore
Jones of the Pacific squadron, learning of the sharp correspond-
ence between Bocanegra and Webster, chanced to come into
possession of certain newspapers which led him to believe that
war had actually begun between United States and Mexico. In
view of this, he felt it to be his duty to secure some point on the
Pacific Coast in order to guard the American interests there.
Consequently in October, 1842, he attacked and captured the
city of Monterey. Although he held it but one day and although
the United States disavowed the act at once, yet the affair
brought forth sharp correspondence and more bitter feeling.'
On Januarj^ 30, 1843, Thompson wrote Webster that "it is wholly
out of the question to do anything as to California and after
recent events there it would be imprudent to allude to it in
Tyler now gave up all idea of trading the claim^s for territory.
The events connected with it, however, are interesting and im-
portant, since they cast some light upon the motives behind
it. If Tyler's letter to Webster on October 11, 1841, were sincere,
then slavery w'as a stumbling block to his policy of expansion
rather than a help. Thompson's correspondence shows the same
thing, since he suggested another compromise in order to get
slavery out of the question. More than this, Webster, the man
whom the anti-slavery party quoted with so much pride as
voicing the sentiments of the North, gave his consent to the
acquiring of California in payment of the claims. If Tyler
were in a slave state conspiracy to get land, then Webster was
an accomplice to it. It is true that Webster might not have
known the designs of the President; and yet he certainly had a
better chance to know them than Adams did.
The other charge that Tyler left the claims grievance open in
' House Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 266, pp. 5-6.
^Ibid., pp. 7-15.
' House Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session, Vol. 5, No. 166.
* Webster MSS. Library of Congress. Vol. 3, p. 163.
50 Graduate School Publications.
order that he might resort to it as a cause for war to accomplish
his designs can be answered only by a study of the history of
these complaints during his administration.^
At the time the sharp correspondence over neutrality was
going on, Webster addressed, July 9, 1842, a letter to Thompson
on the claims. In this he criticised the conduct of the Mexican
commissioners on the board of arbitration; objected to that pro-
vision in the convention which allowed Mexico to pay the awards
in treasury notes, since now they were worth not more than
twenty-five per cent of face value; and concluded that "Mexico
must understand that, having consented to very moderate com-
pensation for the injuries of citizens of the United States, we
shall insist upon payment of that compensation in some straight-
forward and satisfactory manner. "^
Thompson now proceeded to negotiate for the payment of
the awards and for the adjustment of those claims that had been
left undecided by the late commission. His work resulted in a
convention which was signed January 30, 1843. This provided
that on April 30, 1843, the Mexican government should pay all
the interest then due on the awards in gold and silver coin; and,
beginning with this date, should pay in equal quarterly install-
ments the principal and accruing interest until the whole debt
were cancelled. Article six provided for the undecided claims.
"A new convention," it stipulated, "shall be entered into for
the settlement of all claims of the Government and citizens of
the United States against the Republic of Mexico, which were
not finally decided by the late commission which met in the city
of Washington, and of all claims of the Government and citizens
of Mexico against the United States." This last clause, it should
be noted, put a new question into the claims controversy.^
Thompson's correspondence shows that he had experienced
difficulties in winning Mexico over to the terms of the conven-
tion. This was no doubt due to the bitter feeling which had
been aroused by the neutrality correspondence and the Jones
episode. In consequence of this, Mexico became more bold
and less willing to consent to demands. Thompson thought
the first clause of article six of the convention quite a victory
1 Von Hoist states this charge, Vol. 2, p. 627.
2 Webster's Works (National Edition). Vol. 18, pp. 136-138.
3 Treaties and Conventions, pp. 560-563.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 51
since the claims would have been wholly lost had it not been for
it. In his letter of November 8, 1842, he explained why he felt
satisfied with his work; and this explanation is especially interest-
ing and illuminating. He implied that the United States ought
to be thankful that Mexico had been induced to agree to an
adjustment of the claims left undecided by the commission, since
they were "not of such a character of manifest and indisputable
justice, and very far from being so, in their amounts" as to have
justified war. He then commented upon the possibility and jus-
tice of a war over these claims. "The only other alternative
left," he said, "would have been coercion by w^ar or blockade, —
would this have secured the immediate payment? It might in
vengeance and blood, — but not in money. It would doubtless
have injured the Mexicans greatly, but it would have been a
long time — two years at least — before they would have been
brought to terms, if even then, — which I doubt. . . . And
more than all a war for money is at all times to be avoided, if
indeed such war is ever justifiable; and it has occurred to me that
it would be with somewhat of bad grace that we should war upon
any country because it could not pay its debts when so many
of our own States are in the same situation."^ These state-
ments from the letter were never submitted to Congress by the
Three weeks later, Thompson again wrote in the same vein.
In speaking of some of the claims, among which was that of
William Parrott for $690,000, he said, "These claims are not of
such a character as to justify menace and the execution of that
menace if compliance is refused. I am constrained to say that
if they were referred to me as a judge, I could not admit them,
nay more, I cannot with a clear conscience assist them." Of
Parrott's claim he remarked, "To assist such a claim would sub-
ject both me and the Government to ridicule, if nothing more."
In another place in the letter, he did say that "Claims of the
most manifest and admitted justice were postponed from day
to day and from year to year" ^ In communicating extracts of
this letter to Congress, Tyler included the last quotation, but
omitted the other references to the claims.
IMS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents to Mexi-
co. Vol. 11. The parts of the letter quoted are marked for omission.
* MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in
Mexico. Vol. 11, p. 352, or letter dated November 30, 1842.
52 Graduate School Publications.
If, as Adams thought, Thompson had been sent to Mexico to
keep the claims controversy an open sore, then he conducted
himself badly. His negotiations show that instead of increas-
ing hostility, he tried to settle the claims by conceding even
more than he ought to have conceded.^ More than this, instead
of giving the administration at Washington material for war
talk he gave just the opposite kind and of so strong a character
that it did not seem wise to make it public. It is impossible to say
what Tjder's motives were in omitting the statements condemn-
ing a war in his transmission of extracts to Congress. What-
ever they may have been, this conduct does not prove that he
desired war. Even if he had not entertained the slightest idea
of going to war, it would have been absurd for him to have sub-
mitted these statements to the public.
Mexico now began to pay the installments as provided for
in the convention of January 30, 1843;^ and the United States
opened negotiations for a new convention as contemplated in
its sixth article. On July 25, 1843, Upshur, now Secretary of
State, sent Thompson elaborate instructions regarding the nature
of the stipulations which should appear in the new agreement.
The commission to be formed must have jurisdiction over all
the claims returned to the former board by the umpire without
decision, all those which had not been presented to it in due
time, and all those presented in due time but not acted upon.
Individual claims must be first disposed of; and when dealing
with such, the board was to be a judicial and not a diplomatic
body. The claims of the respective governments upon one
another were to be confined to such wrongs only as admitted of
compensation in money. When considering these claims, the
board was to act as a diplomatic body. The United States would
permit no claim urged against it by the Mexican government to
go before the commission without first knowing its precise char-
acter and giving its assent to submit it to arbitration. The
claims of one government upon the other must be dealt with as
a matter wholly separate from that of the individual complaints.
The danger that would arise from a confusion of the two classes
1 The second clause of article six of the convention was a considerable con-
2 She had to resort to a forced loan in order to do it. See Niles' Register.
Vol. 64, pp. 229 and 259.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 53
of claims was pointed out again and again. The instructions
plainly show that the United States did not wish to submit to
arbitration any claim which the Mexican government as such
had against her. Upshur remarked in the letter that this govern-
ment knew of no claim of a pecuniary character that Mexico
had against us. Special directions were given in regard to Par-
rott's claim. Mexico's conduct in reference to it was bitterly
criticised; and the instructions said to this claim, "Ou7' govern-
ment is now a party — not in interest, but in honor." Thompson's
judgment of this claim, therefore, was completely repudiated.
In order that the details of the new convention might be wholly
satisfactory, a complete draft of it was sent along with the in-
structions. Thompson's directions were positive and per-
emptory; he was allowed no liberty even as to the minutest
The draft of the convention sent by Upshur was not satis-
factory to Mexico. She wanted the new board to be a diplomatic
and not a judicial body; and she wished to deny it the right to
pass upon those claim.s which had been rejected by the late com-
mission on the ground of jurisdiction and also those which had
not been presented to it. She desired the place of meeting to
be Mexico City instead of Washington.^ Thompson succeeded
in winning over Mexico to his demands except as to the place of
meeting. He conceded this point, he said, because Mexico made
it a sine qua non, because it was a minor matter, and because
Mexico had much reason on her side in the argument.^
The convention as signed November 20, 1843, was much like
that of April 11, 1839, except that it tried to obviate som.e of the
latter's weak points. All the claims of citizens of the United
States against Mexico left in any way undecided by the late con;i-
mission, all the claims of Mexican citizens against this country,
and all claims of the two governments as such against one another
were to be submitted to a board of four commissioners which was
to have two years in which to complete its work. The umpire
was to be chosen by the King of Belgium; and in case of
his refusal, the King of Denmark or the Emperor of Austria.
The umpire was to have three months after the close of the
1 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 158, pp. 3-14.
^lUd., pp. 16-17.
3 Ibid., p. 20. Also Thompson's Recollections, pp. 225-226.
54 Graduate School Publications.
board's sessions to decide any claims that remained in his hands.
Each nation agreed to furnish documents; and in case of a re-
fusal, the point for which the document was called would be
held valid as claimed. In deciding upon the claims of indi-
viduals, the board was to sit as a judicial body; when deciding
those of the respective governments, article fifteen of the conven-
tion provided a special method whereby the commissioners
would act as the agents of their governments and when they
failed to agree, they were to be empowered to refer the case
to the arbiter.^
The Senate ratified the convention January 30, 1844, but
made two important changes in it. The place for the meeting
of the commission was changed from Mexico City to Washing-
ton; and the article providing for the arbitrament of the claims
that the two governments had upon one another was entirely
stricken out.^ This action of the Senate is extremely significant.
In spite of Thompson's statement that Mexico made the meet-
ing of the board in Mexico City a sine qua non, yet the Senate
changed it. And in direct violation of the last clause of article
six of the convention of January 30, 1843, the Senate struck out
all provision for settling the claims which the governments had
against one another.
Ten days after the Senate's ratification, Upshur sent Thomp-
son a long letter explaining the causes for the changes. Stripped
of profuse arguments and senseless apologies, it appears to have
assigned two reasons for the Senate's amendments. First,
Mexico City was not a convenient place for the meeting of the
commission since nearly all the claimants and documents were
in this country. And second, "It never could have been in the
contemplation of the parties to refer to the umpirage of a third
power any question involving national dignity and honor." In
this connection, the letter again pointed out that neither govern-
ment had any claims against the other which rested on a pecun-
What truth there was in these explanations, it is difficult to
say. Von Hoist implies that the Texas question may have had
1 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 158, pp. 28-32.
"^ Executive Journal. United States Senate. Vol. 6, pp. 228-229.
' MS. Archives. Department of State. Instructions to Agents in Mexico.
Vol. 15, pp. 275-288. Letter dated February 9, 1844.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 55
something to do with the Senate's conduct.^ In the fall of 1843,
a fear of British influence had led Tyler and Upshur to open up
the annexation project. Texas was secretly invited to join the
Union, but Houston turned a cold shoulder to the proposition.
This being the situation when the convention was presented to
the Senate, it is thought that the administration quietly induced
the Senate to practically nullify the treaty so that there might
remain causes for a war through which Texas could be gotten.
There is no evidence which will justify this suspicion. The
profound secrecy with which the annexation movement was
conducted makes it seem incredible that the Senate could have
been influenced by it. More than this, the same Senate that
nullified the convention, two months later rejected the Texas
treaty. If the slave state interests were dominating the Senate,
then it becomes impossible to explain why fifteen slave state
members voted against the annexation treaty. It is unnecessary
to assume the existence of ulterior motives to explain one of the
Senate's changes. It was patent to everybody that Mexico's
one claim against the United States was with reference to the
violation of neutrality regarding Texas. The Senate no doubt
saw that it would be worse than usless to permit a commission
to wrangle over this. Succeeding events will show, too, that
Tyler had no thought of going to war over the claims; his mind
was completely engaged in a different policy.
While the Texas treaty was under negotiation, Mexico ceased
to pay the awards under the convention of January 30, 1843.
The installment due April 30, 1844, was not met. Green, acting
as a charge d'affaires in Mexico, declared in a letter to Calhoun
of May 16 that Mexico was "expecting from day to day to hear
of the annexation of Texas, which will offer an excuse for not
paying at all." ^ On June 20, Calhoun, Secretary of State,
wrote Shannon, who had taken Thompson's place in Mexico,
directing him "to remonstrate in the strongest terms against
this apparent indifference to the obligation of contract." ^ Shan-
non's remonstrances, however, were met with such sharp
answers that on November 8 he refused to communicate further
w^ith the Mexican government until he received new instructions
1 Von Hoist. Vol. 2, pp. 635-636.
2 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 144, p. 14.
'Senate Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 21-24.
56 Graduate School Publications.
from Washington.' Four days later he explained his conduct
to Calhoun, saying that if he had followed his own feelings he
would have demanded his passports. He remarked that he
thought the policy of forbearance towards Mexico a mistaken
one and suggested that Congress ought "to begin to act, and
vindicate the honor of the country as well as the just rights of
our plundered citizens." ^
On December 19, 1844, Tyler sent Shannon's correspondence
to Congress, accompanying it with a four-page message which
reviewed the numerous grievances we had against Mexico. "A
course of conduct," said the message, "such as has been described
on the part of Mexico . • . might well justify the United
States in a resort to any measures to vindicate their national
honor; but actuated by a sincere desire to preserve the general
peace, . . . the Executive . . . abstains from recom-
mending to Congress a resort to measures of redress, and con-
tents itself with reurging upon that body prompt and immediate
action on the subject of annexation." ^
This message meant that Tyler was going to ignore the claims
for the time being and bend all his energies to the securing of
Texas. At any rate he did this. He evidently cared nothing
for the grievances against Mexico further than to make them
look large in the eyes of his enemies so that they could not hurl
at him the accusation that he was despoiling an innocent sister
Although the claims had nothing to do with the final act in the
annexation drama, nevertheless the history of this act throws
some important light upon the motives that lay back of Tyler's
whole Mexican policy. When the Joint Resolution was before
Congress from January to March, 1845, slavery extension con-
stituted the most important subject of discussion in connection
with it. Sumner said that the grand impelling motive of annexa-
tion "was the desire to extend the institution of slavery, and to
strengthen the political combination and power which are founded
upon it." * Hundreds of references containing the same idea
1 House Documents, 28th Congiess, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 19, pp. 19-27.
2 Ibid., pp. 5-8. See also Reports of American Historical Association. Vol.
2, (1899), p. 995.
3 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 19, pp. 1-4.
* Report to the Massachusetts Legislature, April, 1847. Old South Leaflets.
Vol. 6, pp. 140-141.
Claims as a Cavse of (he Mexican War. 57
might be cited. Up to the last decade, this interpretation has
been the accepted one. The annexation of Texas was simply
the climax of a great conspiracy that southern statesmen had
been cherishing for twenty years.
Some later American historians, however, refute this inter-
pretation. John Bassett Moore, ^ Albert Bushnell Hart,^ and
George Pierce Garrison^ maintain that annexation was in the
end the "triumph of the impulse toward expansion." They
hold that slavery was a drawback to the movement; and, had
it not been for the struggles over it, annexation would have been
accomplished earlier and with great ease. The vote in Congress
on the Joint Resolution furnishes an interesting commentary on
this later interpretation. In the Senate, fourteen slave state
and thirteen free state men voted for the resolution, and twelve
slave and thirteen free state men against it. In the House,
sixty-seven slave state and fifty-three free state men were in
favor of it, and eighteen slave and eighty free state men against
it.* Webster declared that it was the North that let in Texas.^
There is no m.anner in which this vote can be explained away.
The question had gone to the people in the presidential campaign
of 1844, and they had decided for it. The debate in Congress
was full and complete ; in fact, it was one of the famous debates
in the history of that body. To call the vote a party vote does
not alter the matter. It was not a line up along slave and free
state interests. Tyler's expansion policy had won because he
had a majority of Congress and the country on his side. Expan-
sion was the grand impelling motive back of Tyler's administra-
tion; and v/hen this is known, it is unnecessary to read conspiracy
into every act that grew out of the Mexican relations. The
claims were an insignificant matter with Tyler; and it seems
doubtful whether he ever thought of going to war over them.
Slavery was a tremendous problem which he had to face; but
again it seems certain that he Avas not in conspiracy with her so
far as his Texas policy was concerned.
'"American Diplomacy," p. 234.
2 "National Ideals Historically Traced," p. 2G.
^ "Westward Extension," pp. 149-150.
^Worked out from the House and Senate Journals, 28th Congress, 2d Ses-
6 Works (Old Edition). Vol. 2, pp. 5.53-5.54, 437-438 and Vol. 5, p. 260.
Claims and the Mexican War — 1845-1848
As in the case of Tyler, expansion was to be one of the great
aims of Polk. George Bancroft, his Secretary of Navy, said in
a letter to Schouler of February, 1887, that the acquisition of
California was from the beginning of his administration one of
the four great measures which he intended to accomplish.^
Scores of references from Polk's diary and public documents
might be cited to show the truth of this statement. This is an
intensely important fact, since no just estimate of the part that
the claims or slavery played in the Mexican War can be arrived
at unless it be kept constantly in mind. Still once more, it is
the old question whether the claims were made a pretext for war
in order that new slave territory might be added to the Union.
When Polk became President, the Mexican situation was this.
Mexico had ceased to pay the awards under the convention of
January 30, 1843; and the convention of November 20 of the
same year had failed to be ratified, thereby leaving all the unde-
cided and new claims to be a source of grievance between the
two countries. Besides this, the diplomatic relations were com-
pletely severed, since Mexico had withdrawn her minister from
Washington at the time Congress passed the Joint Resolution
annexing Texas, and since United States had all but recalled
Shannon from Mexico by rebuking him for breaking the nego-
tiations over the claims in November, 1844. Polk's first task
was, therefore, to renew diplomatic relations.
On March 28, 1845, Polk sent as a secret agent to Mexico
William S. Parrott, the man whose large claim had caused so
much trouble, and instructed him to determine whether Mexico
would be willing to renew intercourse; and if he found that she
would, then he was to make known his official character and in-
form her that this government would send a minister as soon as
official information were received in regard to her willingness to
1 Schouler, Vol. 4 (Revised Edition), p. 499.
* Jesse S. Reeves. "American Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk," pp.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 59
During the summer of 1845, despatches were received from
Parrott and other agents in Mexico which led Polk to believe
that a minister would be received. Accordingly he called a cabi-
net meeting on September 16 and laid the matter before it.
What took place at this meeting is thus described by the Presi-
dent in his diary: "After much consultation it was agreed
unanimously, that it was expedient to re-open Diplomatic rela-
tions with Mexico; — but that it was to be kept a profound
secret — that such a step was contemplated, — for the reason
mainly that if it were known in advance in the U. S. — that a
minister had been sent to Mexico, — it would of course be known
to the British, French and other Foreign Ministers at Washing-
ton, — who might take measures to thwart or defeat the objects of
the mission. The President in consultation with the Cabinet
agreed that the Hon. John Slidell of New Orleans, — who spoke
the Spanish language, — and was otherwise well qualified should
be tendered the mission. . . . One great object of the mission
as stated by the President, would be to adjust a permanent boun-
dary between Mexico and the U. States, — and that in doing this
the minister would be instructed to purchase for a pecuniary
consideration Upper California and New Mexico. He said that
a better boundary would be the Del Norte from its mouth to the
Passa in latitude about 32° North, and thence West to the Pacific
Ocean, — Mexico ceding to the U. S. all the country east and north
of these lines. The President said that for such a boundary, —
the amount of pecuniary consideration to be paid, — would be of
small importance. He supposed it might be had for fifteen or
twenty millions, but was ready to pay forty millions for it, if it
could not be had for less. In these views the Cabinet agreed
with the President unanimously."^
The next day information was received which made the Presi-
dent doubt whether a minister would be accepted by Mexico. It
was then decided that Mr. Black, a consul in Mexico, should be
instructed to find out; and accordingly Buchanan, Secretary of
State, immediately addressed him a letter asking him "to ascer-
tain from the Mexican Government whether they would receive
an envoy from the United States, intrusted with full power to
adjust all the questions in dispute between the two govern-
' Polk's ISJS. Diary. New York Public Library. Entry for September
60 Graduate School Puhlications.
ments."^ On October 13, 1845, Black put the question in Bu-
chanan's own words to Pena y Pena, the Mexican Minister of
Foreign Affairs.^ Two days later, Pena y Pena answered "that
although the Mexican nation is deeply injured by the United
States, through the acts committed by them in the department
of Texas, which belongs to this nation, my government is dis-
posed to receive the commissioner of the United States who may
come to this Capital with full powers from his government to
settle the present dispute in a peaceful, reasonable, and honorable
manner." As a pre-condition, however, United States must
recall the naval force lying in the Gulf of Mexico.^
While the President was waiting for this information, he took
the second step in his California policy. As early as June 24,
1845, Bancroft, Secretary of the Navy, had written Commodore
John D. Sloat, commander of the United States naval forces in
the Pacific, instructing him, in the event of a declaration of war
by Mexico against the United States, to immediately take posses-
sion of the port of San Francisco and blockade such other ports
as his forces would permit.^ Polk now sent, October 17, 1845,
Thomas O. Larkin as a secret agent to California, instructing
him to inspire the people of the territory "with a jealousy of
European dominion, and to arouse in their bosoms that love of
liberty and independence so natural to the American Continent. "
He was also authorized to say that, while the President would
use no undue influence to get California "yet if the people should
desire to unite their destiny with ours they would be received,
as brethren, whenever this can be done without affording Mexico
just cause of complaint." ^
By November 7 Black 's correspondence with Pena y Pena was
received; and on this day, Polk and Buchanan began to discuss the
instructions which were to be given to Slidell as minister to
Mexico.^ By the next day they were finished and submitted to
the Cabinet where they were "discussed, amended, and agreed
' House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, p. 8.
2 House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, pp. 10-11.
UUd., pp. 11-12.
^ House Documents, 30th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 7, No. 60, p. 231.
^ Moore. Works of James Buchanan. Vol. 6, pp. 275-278. On October
30, Lieutenant Gellespie was sent to co-operate with Larkin. See Polk's
Diary for this date.
* Polk's MS. Diary for November 7, 1845.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 61
to unanimously." ^ There is no evidence that either Polk or the
members of his Cabinet raised the question regarding the difference
between the proposition which United States put to Mexico and
the thing to which Mexico agreed. United States asked if
Mexico would accept an envoy with full power to settle all dis-
putes between the two nations, and Mexico replied that she
w^ould receive a commissioner entrusted with full power to settle
the present dispute; that is, the Texas affair. Whether Polk
purposely ignored the difference it is impossible to say. At any
rate, Slidell went to Mexico under full powers of a minister.
As noted above, his instructions had been prepared with great
care. Excepting the introduction, which restated the Monroe
Doctrine," these instructions dealt with two questions, that of
the claims and that regarding the boundary, and they showed
how one of these might be m.ade to solve the other.'
"The history of no civilized nation," said the instructions,
"presents in so short a period of time so many wanton attacks
upon the rights of persons and property as have been endured
by citizens of the United States from the Mexican authorities."
The history of the claims was then taken up and the duty of
adjusting them was enjoined upon Slidell. " But in what manner,"
continued the letter, "can this duty be performed consistently
with the amicable spirit of your m.ission? The fact is too well
known to the world, that the Mexican government are not now
in a condition to satisfy these claims by the payment of m.oney.
Unless the debt should be assumed by the government of the
United States, the claimants cannot receive what is justly their
due. Fortunately, the joint resolution of Congress, approved
1st March, 1845, 'for annexing Texas to the United States,'
presents the means of satisfying these claims, in perfect consist-
ency with the interests, as well as the honor of both republics.
It has reserved to this government the adjustment 'of all ques-
tions of boundary that may arise with other governments. '
This question of boundarj^ may, therefore, be adjusted in such
a manner between the two republics as to cast the burden of the
debt due to American claimants upon their own government,
whilst it will do no injury to Mexico. "
1 Polk's MS. Diary for November 8, 184.5.
' Polk sincerely believed that England was trying to get California.
' For these instructions see Senate Documents, 30th Congress, 1st Session.
Vol. 7, No. 60, pp. 3.3-43.
62 Graduate School Publications.
Then followed specific propositions whereby the claims might
be traded for a cession of territory. If Mexico would part with
that remote and detached province of New Mexico, the United
States would assume all the claims and pay five million dollars
besides. In case she did not wish to cede this much, and would
agree to the Del Norte boundary as laid down in the act of the
Texan Congress of December 19, 1836, then this government
would assume simply the payment of the claims. But in the
event that Mexico would be willing to cede California, then
"money would be no object." The United States would as-
sume all the claims and give twenty-five million dollars besides
for a boundary "running due west from the southern extremity
of New Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, or from any other point on
its western boundary which would embrace Monterey within
our limits." Twenty million dollars and the assumption of the
claims would be given "for any boundary commencing at any
point on the western line of New Mexico and running due west
to the Pacific, so as to include the bay and harbor of San Fran-
The nature of Shdell 's instructions were kept profoundly secret.
Polk says that Mr. Trist and his private secretary were the only
persons outside of his Cabinet who knew anything about them.^
Slidell even apologized to Buchanan for telling his wife about the
mission.^ These instructions were never made public until the
treaty closing the Mexican War was submitted to Congress.^
Polk reviewed the Mexican situation in his annual message of
December 2, 1845, describing the flagrant wrongs we had suffered
at the hands of that government, but concluded that he would
await the results of Slidell 's mission before recommending ulterior
measures of redress.^
Shdell reached Mexico about December 1, at the very time
Herrera's government was tottering to its fall due to another
revolution. The Mexican government informed him before he
reached the capital that they were not expecting an envoy yet for
1 Polk's MS. Diary, November 10, 1845.
2 Curtis. Life of Buchanan. Vol. 1, pp. 591-592.
3 Nevertheless, the objects of the mission were correctly guessed within a
month after the instructions were written. See Niles' Register. Vol. 69, pp.
209, 147-148, 161, 203 and 244-245. See also National Inielligencer for
December 13, 15, and 18, 1845.
< Senate Documents, 29th Congress, let Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 6-9.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 63
a month and that they were being called traitors for offering to
negotiate with the United States.^ Slidell paid no attention to
this caution, but pressed vigorously the question of his recogni-
tion. On December 20, Pena y Pena informed him that his
government could not accept him in his full capacity as minister.
He declared that Mexico had agreed to receive only a commis-
sioner who had full power to adjust the one dispute which had
caused the rupture of diplomatic relations, namely, the annexa-
tion of Texas. No friendly relations could be established until
this was settled; and when Slidell received power to act specifically
upon this subject, then he would be received.
Four days later, December 24, 1845, Slidell answered Pena y
Pena, making a sharp attack upon Mexico's refusal to receive
him. And although he had no right to discuss diplomatic ques-
tions with that government prior to his recognition, nevertheless,
he opened up the subject of claims. He gave them a bitter char-
acterization and then added: "The United States have never
yet, in the course of their history, failed to vindicate, and success-
fully, too, against the most powerful nations of the earth, the
rights of their injured citizens. If such has been their course in
their infancy, and when comparatively feeble, it cannot be pre-
sumed that they will deviate from it now. " Three days later he
withdrew to Jalapa to await new instructions from his govern-
In the meantime, news of Slidell 's treatment had reached
Washington; and, on January 13, 1846, the President directed
the Secretary of War to order General Taylor to advance and
occupy a position on or near the east bank of the Rio del Norte
River. ^ A week later, Buchanan sent Slidell his commission as
minister to Mexico and with it a new set of instructions. These
approved of his course so far and pointed out that Mexico was
evidently quibbling over the mere form of his credentials for the
purpose of evading "the redress of the real injuries of our citizens,
by confining the negotiation to the adjustment of a pecuniary
indemnity for its imaginary rights over Texas. " This could not
be tolerated; the two subjects of claims and boundary must go
1 Brantz Mayer. History of the Mexican War, pp. 80-81.
2 For Slidell correspondence so far, see House Documents, 29th Congress,
1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, first 40 pages.
3 Ibid., pp. 25-28.
64 Graduate School Publications.
hand in hand. As to the general policy which Slidell was to pur-
sue, the instructions said, "The desire of the President is, that
you should conduct yourself with such wisdom and firmness in
the crisis, that the voice of the American people shall be unani-
mous in favor of redressing the wrongs of our much injured and
long suffering claimants."^ Still a week later, Buchanan again
addressed Slidell, saying, "Should the Mexican government,
however, finally refuse to receive you, the cup of forbearance
will then have been exhausted. Nothing can remain but to take
the redress of the injuries to our citizens, and the insults to our
government, into our own hands. "'^
These two letters of January 20 and 28 did not reach Slidell
until March 1; and in the meantime, the President's mind had
become very active in formulating schemes for settling the Mexi-
can situation. On February 13, Polk received a visit from
Colonel Atacha who represented himself as a Spaniard by birth,
a naturalized citizen of the United States, and an intimate friend
of Santa Anna whom he had recently visited in Havana where
in exile. From this interview, Polk learned that Santa Anna
was back of the Paredes revolution and would soon be restored
to power in Mexico, in which event he would cede to the United
States the territory desired for thirty million dollars. On the
following day, Polk laid this information before his Cabinet and
cautiously suggested that C. P. Van Ness be sent as a secret
agent to Santa Anna. Buchanan opposed the scheme.^
Two days later, Polk gave Atacha another interview two hours
in length. In the conversation, Atacha emphasized the fact
that United States must make a show of force against Mexico
before anything could be accomplished. Polk made no reply
further than to say that Mexico would have to satisfy the claims.*
Polk again laid the matter before the Cabinet and "an ani-
mated conversation took place." The part the President took
in it is thus described in his diary: "I expressed the opinion —
1 House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, pp. 44-45.
2 Ibid., pp. 46-47.
3 Polk's MS. Diary, February 13 and 14, 1846. Although Polk says nothing
about it in his diary, nevertheless a secret agent was sent to Santa Anna and
the United States did help him back to Mexico. See a letter of Alexander
Slidell MacKenzie to Buchanan, June 7, 1846, quoted by J. S. Reeves, "Ameri-
can Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk," pp. 299-307.
* Polk's MS. Diary, February 16, 1846.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 65
that it would be necessary to take strong measures towards
Mexico, — before our difficulties with that Government could be
settled, and I proposed that in addition to Mr. Slidell 's present
instructions, he should be further instructed to demand an early
decision of the Mexican Government, whether they would receive
him as minister or not; and if they received him whether they
would without unreasonable delay, — pay the amount due to
American claimants; and that if that Government refused to do
one or both, that he should leave the country, but instead of
returning immediately to the U. States, as he had been instructed
to do, he should go on board one of our vessels of war at Vera
Cruz, and there remain until he had further instructions from
his Government. I stated that in that event I would send a
strong message to Congress calling on that body to authorize me
to cause another demand to be made by Mr. Slidell from on board
the vessel of war, on the Mexican Government, to pay our de-
mands, and if this was refused by Mexico, to confer authority on
the executive to take redress into our hands, by aggressive meas-
ures." Buchanan again opposed the scheme, and the President
went on to describe the bad mood of his Secretary of State and
the strained relations that existed between them.^
The President 's aggressive measures having thus been thwarted
he now turned to a different plan. On March 12, he had Buchanan
issue additional instructions to Slidell directing him not to leave
Mexico without making a formal demand for recognition, since if
he did the support of the President in Congress might be affected
in case war had to be declared. As a last resort to peaceful
methods, the letter also said, "It would be easy for you to make
known to him (Paredes) in some discreet manner that the United
States were both able and willing to relieve his administration
from pecuniary embarrassment, if he would do us justice and
settle the question of boundary between the two republics. "^
Polk tried to get Congress to appropriate a million dollars to
use in the negotiations; and consulted in regard to it Ingersoll,
CuUom, Cass, Benton, and Calhoun, but Calhoun opposed it and
it was dropped.^
1 Polk's MS. Diary, February 17, 1846.
2 Quoted from MS. Archives, Department of State, by Jesse S. Reeves.
"American Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk," pp. 294-295. The part of the
letter containing the bribe was never submitted to Congress.
3 Polk's MS. Diary, March 25, 28, 30, and April 3, 1846.
66 Graduate School Publications.
But on the same day that these additional instructions were
written, Slidell was refused recognition. The letter of refusal
was sharp and insulting and the denial was unequivocal. Mexico
held that to admit an envoy in general was equivalent to the ad-
mission that the question which had produced the rupture of
diplomatic intercourse was at an end and that relations of friend-
All of Polk's schemes so far, honorable and dishonorable, had
failed. Had he not been so zealous for California, he might
have consented to a separation of the two questions of claims and
boundary, with a slight possibility at least of settling both. But
as it was, war alone remained; and to this some of his Cabinet
and some of the leaders in Congress still objected. Buchanan
and Bancroft wanted a declaration of it postponed until Mexico
actually committed some act of hostility, while Calhoun and
Benton desired that the Oregon question be first settled. Polk
could make no reply to their opposition except by saying that
the claims constituted a sufficient cause.^ On May 9, the event
occurred which relieved the President from his dilemma, since on
this day he received General Taylor's letter of April 26, describing
the attack that had been made by the Mexicans upon a party of
our troops on the east bank of the Rio Grande. Polk now called
the second Cabinet meeting for the day, and war was finally
agreed upon, and two days later the message went to Congress.*
This message is a peculiar state paper, and one the logic of
which is impossible to understand unless viewed in the light that
the President aimed more to get support for the war than to de-
scribe truthfully the causes that led to it. The message first
dealt with Slidell's mission. It was asserted that this minister
had been sent to Mexico only after that country had agreed to
receive him; which was, of course, not the exact truth, since
Mexico had agreed to receive a commissioner with full power to
settle the present dispute while the United States had asked if she
would receive an envoij with full power to settle all questions in
controversy between the two nations. The treatment that Sli-
dell had received was then severely condemned, and reasons were
^ House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, pp. 57-61.
2 Polk's MS. Diary, April 7, 18, 21, 25, 28, and May 3, 1846.
3 Polk's MS. Diary, May 9, 1846, and House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st
Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, p. 120.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 67
assigned why the United States had refused to separate the two
questions of claims and boundary. "The redress of the wrongs, "
it says, "of our citizens naturally and inseparably blended itself
with the question of boundary. The settlement of the one
question, in any correct view of the subject, involves that of the
other. I could not, for a moment, entertain the idea that the
claims of our much injured and long-suffering citizens, many of
which had existed for more than twenty years, should be post-
poned, or separated from the settlement of the boundary ques-
But the second part of the message proceeds to deny that
there was any boundary question, since it cites four or five proofs
to show that the Rio Grande was the line between United States
and Mexico, and that the land between this river and the Nueces
belonged to this country. Hence, when the Mexican troops
had crossed the Rio Grande and attacked a detachment from
General Taylor's army, they had thereby "invaded our territory,
and shed American blood upon American soil." Polk seems to
have forgotten that he had instructed Slidell in November, 1845,
to negotiate for this same Rio Grande boundary in case he could
not secure one which would give us more territory.
The claims themselves which had been considered the one
great grievance we had against Mexico received very little con-
sideration in the message ; in fact, not one tenth of it was devoted
to a discussion of them. One of the closing paragraphs, how-
ever, did say, "Our commerce with Mexico has been almost
annihilated. It was formerly highly beneficial to both nations;
but our merchants have been deterred from prosecuting it by
the system of outrage and extortion which the Mexican authori-
ties have pursued against them, whilst their appeals through
their own government for indemnity have been made in vain.
Our forbearance has gone to such an extreme as to be mistaken
in its character. Had we acted with vigor in repelling the in-
sults and redressing the injuries inflicted by Mexico at the com-
mencement, we should have escaped all the difficulties in which
we are now involved. . . . The cup of forbearance had been
exhausted even before the recent information from the frontier
of the Del Norte." When this quotation is interpreted critically,
it leads to the conclusion that after all the claims were the funda-
mental cause for the war. But Polk saw fit to emphasize Slidell's
insolent treatment at the hands of Mexico and the shedding
68 Graduate School Publications.
of American blood upon American soil as the causes for war
rather than the less exciting subject of claims, since thereby he
evidently thought he could better arouse the spirit of Congress
and the country.^
On the same day that it received the message, the House passed
a war measure by a vote of one hundred and seventy-four to
fourteen. The documents accompanying the message were not
even read and no debate was allowed.^ The action of the Senate
was nearly as hasty. It discussed the message a little on May
11, but on the following day passed an act recognizing a state
of war by a vote of forty to two.^
On the day that war was formally declared, May- 13, 1846,
Polk made an entry in his diary which is worthy of being quoted
at length since it shows what was no doubt the real motive for
the war. "Mr. Buchanan," says the entry, "read the draft of
a despatch which he had prepared to our ministers at London,
Paris and other Foreign Courts announcing the declaration of
war against Mexico, with a statement of the causes and objects
of the war, with a view that they should communicate its sub-
stance to the respective Governments to which they are accredited.
Among other things Mr. Buchanan had stated that our object
was not to dismember Mexico, or make conquests, and that the
Del Norte was the boundary to which we claimed, or rather that
in going to war we did not do so with a view to acquire either
California or New Mexico or any other portion of the Mexican
Territory. I told him that though we had not gone to war for
conquest, — yet it was clear that in making peace, we would if
practicable obtain California and such other portion of the
Mexican Territory as would be sufficient to indemnify our claim-
ants in Mexico, and to defray the expenses of the war, which
that power by her long-continued wrongs and injuries had forced
us to wage. I told him that it was well known that the Mexican
Government had no other means of indemnifying us; — Mr.
Buchanan said if when Mr. McLane announced to Lord Aberdeen
the existence of the war with Mexico, the latter should demand
of Mr. McLane to know if we intended to acquire California, or
1 For the message see Richardson's Messages and Papers of the Presidents.
Vol. 4, pp. 437-443.
2 Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 791-795.
2 Ibid., pp. 782, 795-804.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 69'
any other part of the Mexican Territory — and no satisfactory
answer was given, he thought it almost certain that both Eng-
land and France would join with Mexico in the war against us.
I told him that the war with Mexico was an affair with which
neither England, France or any other power had any concern
— that such an inquiry would be insulting to our Government, —
and if made I would not answer it, even if the consequence should
be a war with all of them. I told him I would not tie up my
hands or make any pledge to any Foreign power as to the terms
on which I would ultimately make peace with Mexico. I told
him no Foreign power had any right to demand any such assur-
ance, and that I would make none such let the consequences
be what they might. Then said Mr. Buchanan you will have
war with England as well as Mexico, and probably with France
also, for neither of these powers will ever stand by and see Cali-
fornia annexed to the U. S. I told him that before I would
make the pledge which he proposed, I would meet the war which
either England or France or all the powers of Christendom —
might wage, and that I would stand and fight until the last man
among us fell in the conflict. I told him that neither as a citizen,
nor as President would I permit or tolerate any intermeddling
of any European power on this Continent. . . . The dis-
cussion tonight was one of the most earnest and interesting which
has occurred in my Cabinet."^
Here, without the least doubt, lies the keynote to Polk's Mexi-
can policy. After he had failed to trade the claims for territory
by peaceable means, he turned to war to accomplish the same
purpose. Nearly every movement made by the President dur-
ing the war points to the fact that California was the all impor-
tant consideration. Two days after the war was proclaimed,
Bancroft, Secretary of the Navy, wrote Commodore Sloat of
the Pacific squadron saying, "A connexion between California,
and even Sonora, and the present government of Mexico, is
supposed scarcely to exist. You will, as opportunity offers,
conciliate the confidence of the people in California, and also
in Sonora, towards the government of the United States; and
you will endeavor to render their relations with the United States
as intimate and as friendly as possible.^ Kearney's expedition
1 Polk's MS. Diary, May 13, 1846.
2 House Documents, 30th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 7, No. 60, p. 233-236.
70 Graduate School Publications.
planned a few weeks later had the same object in view.^ During
the early months of the war, while campaigns were being sketched,
Polk in his diary alludes again and again to his California pro-
jects, nearly every time observing that Mexico can pay the
claims in no other manner than by a cession of territory .^
With Polk's real object thus clearly in view, it is interesting
and important to turn to the public justification that he made of
the war at different times during its progress. The first of these
justifications did not come from the President; and yet, proceed-
ing as it did from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it
may be considered as voicing the opinions which the administra-
tion wished to go before the country. This report appeared
June 24, 1846, and gave as the reason for its appearance the
fact that the exigency of the case prevented the war message
from going before the committee, and that it was proper that
the causes of the war should be manifest to the world. This
report contained fifty-two pages, and fully one half of them were
given to the claims showing that they constituted a good and
sufficient cause for war.^
By December, 1846, the war had been so severely criticised
and so often pronounced unjust^ that the President entered into
a long defence of it in his annual message. He now lays great
emphasis on the part the claims played in bringing it about,
and says that if the United States had adopted compulsory
measures and taken redress into their own hands in accordance
with Van Buren's recommendations in December, 1837, "all
our difficulties with Mexico would probably have been long
since adjusted, and the existing war have been avert -d." After
reviewing the whole history of the claims, he concludes that "we
had ample cause of war against Mexico long before the breaking
out of hostilities." ^
This message put the President openly on the defensive and
Congress and the country now began in earnest to question the
1 Polk's MS. Diary, May 29, 30, and June 2, 1846.
2 Ibid., May 14, 16, 20, 29, 30, June 30, July 7, September 26, and November
^ House Reports, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 4, No. 752.
* See especially speeches made in Congress on the various bills pertaining
to the conduct of the war. Congressional Globe.
^ Richardson. Messages and Papers of the Presidents. Vol. 4, pp. 471-506.
Eight pages are given to the claims.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 71
validity of the causes that had been assigned for the war. Four
days after the message appeared, the National Intelligencer gave
a six-column editorial to the criticism of it. It asked why the
President did not do as Van Buren had done, lay the matter
before Congress instead of declaring war largely upon other
grounds. It denied that the object of the war was redress, and
asserted that its aim was conquest. ^ Nearly all the principal
speeches made in Congress during the session dealing with war
measures took occasion to attack the message. Giddings asked
why "the Executive never assigned the non-payment of this
money as a cause of war until after hostilities were commenced." ^
Gentry of Tennessee said that the President had tried to mistify
the public mind and divert it from the discovery of the true
causes of the war and himself as the author of it.^ Garrett Davis
called the message one of Polk's "miserable subterfuges."*
Caleb Smith of Indiana said, "I cannot but believe, that when
viewed through any other than a party medium, it will be re-
garded more like the speech of a bar-room politician upon the
hustings than such a state paper as should emanate from the
President of the United States." ^ Severance of Maine declared:
''Why all the parade of these old claims unless to excuse him for
commencing the war? If there were cause of war, it was not
for him to make, but for Congress. . . . Such a pretext for
war is utterly preposterous; it is evidently an afterthought,
thrown in with abundance of cunning to justify a foregone con-
clusion. . . . The prosecution of it looks to conquest, and
nothing else. The installments of the indemnity now due are
as but dust in the balance." Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia
said, "If our honor, gentlemen now seem to regard so tenderly,
is involved in this matter, why have they slept so long over the
wrongs of France, committed near half a century ago? . . .
Why did the President, who would make us believe that he looks
so anxiously after such matters, veto the bill which passed at the
last session to render that justice which had been so long de-
ferred?" « Scores of similar thrusts might be cited; and Polk
evidently felt the sting of the accusations, for on February 5,
^ National Intelligencer for December 12, 1846.
2 Congressional Globe, 29th Congi-ess, 2d Session. Appendix, p. 50.
3 Ibid., p. 57. ' Ibid., p. 108. ' Ibid., p. 230.
6 Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 2d Session. Appendix, p. 283.
72 Graduate School Publications.
1S47. he wrote in his diary: "I am in the unenviable position of
being held responsible for the conduct of the Mexican War, when
I have no support either from Congress or from the two othcers
(Scott and Taylor) highest in command in the held.'" ^
In spite of the fact that his Secretary of State. Buchanan, at
this time opposed the acquisition of territory," and in spite of
all the opposition that Congress offered to his war measures,
Polk never wavered in his policy. In his third annual message
of December 7, 1S47, he rested the whole justice of the war on
the groimd of indemnity. '"It is well-known." he said, "that
the only indemnity which it is in the power of Mexico to make
in satisfaction of the just and long-deferred claims of our citizens
against her and the only means by Mhich she can reimburse the
United States for the expenses of the war is a cession to the
United States of a portion of her territory. Mexico has no
money to pay. and no other means of making the required indem-
nity. To reject indemnity by refusing to accept a cession of
territory would be to abandon all our just demands, and wage
the war, bearing all its expenses, without a purpose or definite
object." Again he said, "'The doctrine of no territory is the
doctrine of no indemnity, and if sanctioned would be a pubhc
acknowledgment that our coimtry was wrong and that the war
declared by Congress with extraordinary unanimity was unjust
and should be abandoned — an admission unfounded in fact and
degrading to the national character.''^
When the war was closed and the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
■was submitted to Congress, Polk then for the first time let the
public know what was in SUdell's secret instructions of November
10, 1845. In spite of the fact that everybody could now read
these, and in spite of the fact that every movement during the
war showed that Cahfornia was its goal, nevertheless in the mes-
sage transmitting the treaty Polk still had the audacity to say:
"The extensive and valuable territories ceded by jMexico to the
United States constitute indemnity for the past, and the brilliant
achievements and signal successes of our arms will be a guaranty
1 Polk's MS. Diary, February o, 1S47.
- Ibid., Xovember 2S, 1S46. Buchanan, however, soon came to desire as
much territorj- as the President. See Diary for February 21, 1S48.
^ Richardson. Messages and Papers of the Presidents. Vol. 4, pp. 532-564.
C: m C<jw*e fnf the Mexi/cian War. 73
,ty the United States agreed to pay Mexico
fr ' - ■ .-.' Tbe
Li jiiTentioiis of April 11, 1839, and
Jaruiijy -j'j, l^i■i ji^ime the " ' ' : ""la&irt of
all other claims o: -i:? agaiiast ' . _ signing
of the treaty, on cot jwever, that the amomit of the
latter she " ind a quarter million of dollars.*
By this t; Vnited State* declared as inTalid
a large fractior. ^eided claims for Tirhich she was fight-
ing; since, if no L-r^, o.&,:ii,= are considered, those left by the com-
mission sitting 'irA'rT *h^' ':onTentioi; 'f April 11. 1S39, amotmted
to over fire l :=. Th- -ion which sat from
April 16. 1&49; -o a;,::. i5, 1851, : : .:- purpose of adjusting
the imdecided claims made awards amo^r^^irig to $3 2^^.314.96.^
Adding to this a little over a million Mexico
had failed to pay mider the conventio::^ ' : -^s.-^:^ •yj, 1843,'
then the total amomit of claims for which United States went
to war was less than five million. Polk put it very aptly in his
message transmitting the treaty when he said the territory ac-
quired constituted an "indenonity for the past": that is, an
indemnity for the claims as such, for the trouble of going to war,
and above all for the gratification of the desire for land.
There can be no possible doubt as to the chief motive that
lay back of the Mexican War. As Reeves says, "Tl^d the United
States otAx the matter of Texas to settle with Mexico there
would have been no difficultj'." * The invasion of Texas and
the shedding of American blood upon American soil were merely
pretexts which were used to influence public sentiment. The
same mav be said of the claims. Polk would certainlv have never
- Ihui., pp. .567-59.3.
* Article 12. Treaties and Conventions, pp. ^1-692.
* Articles 1.3, 14, and 1.5 of the treaty.
- Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2. pp. 12.5-3-12.54.
- .See menage transmitting treaty- — Richardson. Messages and papeis rf
the Pre-ddente. Vol 4, pp. ^7-593.
* -J. .S. Reeves. American Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk, p. 189.
74 Graduate School Publications.
waged a costly war for the sake of getting five million dollars
indemnity. The chief object of the Mexican War was conquest.
During Polk's administration, expansion was in the air; and
there were men in all sections of the country who looked beyond
even California and New Mexico to Mexico herself. Cass spoke
openly for the conquest of all Mexico.^ Dickenson of New
York, at a banquet in celebration of the anniversary of the bat-
tle of New Orleans, offered a toast on "A more perfect Union,
embracing the whole of the North American continent. "^ Cabell
said in the House, " In most of the Democratic meetings through-
out the country we find the idea of the acquisition of the whole
of Mexico prominent."^ Calhoun remarked, "There was at
that time (beginning of the first session of the thirtieth Congress)
a party scattered over every portion of the country in favor of
conquering the whole of Mexico. To prove that such was the
case, it is only necessary to refer to the proceedings of numerous
large public meetings, to declarations repeatedly made in public
journals, and to the opinions expressed by officers of the army,
and individuals of standing and influence, to say nothing of
declarations made here and in the other House of Congress." *
General Quitman urged upon the President and Secretary of
State the permanent military occupation of Mexico, saying that
it could be held without expense to the United States and with
but temporary opposition from the Mexican people." ^ Tom
Corwin in his speech on the Mexican War, February 11, 1847,
said that he had heard much lately about the dismemberment of
Mexico; and added, "this uneasy desire to augment our territory
has depraved the moral sense and blunted the otherwise keen
sagacity of our people. . . . Our young orators cherish
this notion with a fervid, but fatally mistaken zeal." ^ Ashbel
Smith in an address at Galveston, February 22, 1848, said, "The
Mexican War is a part of the mission, of the destiny allotted to
the Anglo Saxon race on this continent. It is our destiny, our
mission to civilize, to Americanize this continent. . . . Nor
* Congressional Globe, 30th Congress, 1st Session, p. 215.
2 Quoted by Von Hoist. Vol. 3, pp. 342-343.
^ Congressional Globe, 30th Congress, 1st Session, p. 428.
4 Calhoun's Works. Vol. 4, p. 429.
^ Claiborne's Life and Correspondence of J. A. Quitman. Vol. 2, p. 7.
Quoted by Von Hoist. Vol. 3, p. 342.
8 Morrow. Life and speeches of Thomas Corwin, pp. 308-309.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 75
will there be a stay or hindrance until our institutions shall have
extended to the Pacific Ocean on the West and the Isthmus of
Darien on the South." ' Clay, in arguing against these ideals
in a speech on November 13, 1847, asked how Mexico's nine
million people could ever be represented in the Congress of the
United States and whether we needed for our happiness the
addition of Mexico to this Union.^ Polk made the following
interesting entry in his diary for March 3, 1848: "Most of the
Democratic Senators who will vote against the ratification (that
is the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo), will do so because they
desire to secure more territory than the Treaty acquires; and
most of the Whig Senators, perhaps all of them, who will vote
against the ratification, will do so because they are opposed to
acquiring any territory." ^ Polk opposed the taking of all Mexico ;
and Bourne thinks that this opposition was one of the principal
causes that defeated the movement.* While no one can say
just how much this movement meant, yet it is clear that the
doctrine of ''manifest destiny" found a place in the thoughts of
many men at this time.
This expansion movement was not the sole work of slavery
men, as has been held by American historians up to the last
decade. The Mexican War was not fought purely for the in-
terests of slave states. In truth, the very men who were respon-
sible for this war were hindered more than helped by the great
slavery struggle. There is considerable evidence to sustain this
When the Wilmot Proviso was before Congress, Polk became
uneasy and called Wilmot to an interview, which is thus described
in the President's diary: "I told him I did not desire to extend
slavery, that I would be satisfied to acquire by treaty from
Mexico the provinces of New Mexico and the Californias, . . .
and that in these provinces slavery could probably never exist,
and the great probability was that the question would never
arise, ... in the future organization of territorial or State
Governments in these territories." Polk then went on to show
1 See address; pamphlet in New York Public Library.
2 Works (Federal Edition) . Vol. 3, pp. 63-65.
3 Polk's MS. Diary, March 3, 1848.
* Edward G. Bourne. The Proposed Absorption of Mexico in 1847-1848.
Annual Report of American Historical Association for 1899. Vol. 1, p. 169.
76 Graduate School Publications.
how the restriction proposed in the proviso would cause the
South to defeat the treaty when it came to be made.^ A few
days later Polk again wrote that slavery "has and can have no
legitimate connection with the war with Mexico, or the terms of
a peace which may be concluded with that country." He
thought slavery was being agitated for the purpose of splitting
the Democratic party in the next presidential election.^ Bu-
chanan now came to hold views much like those of the President.
On April 23, 1847, he wrote General Shields, saying, "I would
acquire the whole of Upper and Lower California if I could.
Slavery in that region south of 36° 30' can never become a ques-
tion of any real importance from the character of the country." ^
But at the very time Polk was struggling to keep the slavery
question out of his plans to close the war and get territory, Web-
ster was arraigning northern men because they refused to vote
for measures which would deny to the United States the acquisi-
tion of any territory and thereby the augmenting of slave state
power. When the "Three Million Bill" was before the Senate,
Berrien of Georgia moved to amend it so that the money appro-
priated for expenses connected with a treaty should not be used
to acquire any territory by conquest from Mexico. The Senate
rejected the amendment, and Webster said, "Who has rejected
it? By whose votes has this amendment, this very evening,
been lost? Sir, it has been lost by the votes of the honorable
member from New York and his Northern and Eastern friends.
It has been voted down by the 'Northern Democracy,' . . .
Every member of the Senate belonging to the Democratic party,
in the Northern States, however warmly he might have declared
himself against new slave states, yet refused to vote against all
territorial acquisition, a measure proposed and offered as a per-
fect security against more slave states. They are for acquiring
territory; they are for more states; and, for the sake of this,
they are willing to run the risk of these new states being slave
states, and to meet all the convulsions which the discussion of
that momentous question may hereafter produce." ^ Webster
made the same criticism of the vote on the treaty of Guadalupe
1 Polk's MS. Diary, December 23, 1846.
2 Ibid., January 4, 1847.
3 Moore. Works of James Buchanan. Vol. 3, pp. 286-287.
* Webster's Works. Vol. 5 (Old Edition), pp. 257-258.
Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 77
Hidalgo, saying, "Messrs. Berrien, Badger, and other respect-
able and distinguished men of the South, voted against the
acquisition, and the treaty which secured it; and if the men of
the North had voted the same way, we should have been spared
all the difficulties that have grown of it." ^
The truth seems to be that whenever slavery stood in the way
of expansion, it was forced aside and the more desirable of the
two objects was taken. Southern men suppressed their pro-
slavery feelings for territory; and Northern men suppressed
their anti-slavery feelings for the same thing. Bourne's con-
clusion is that "The movementfor expansion, although associated
in the minds of many people with the extension of slavery, was
by no means identical with it, being on the one hand strongly
opposed by some of the ablest champions of the institution and
on the other hand ardently advocated by its enemies, while the
body of its support was in no inconsiderable degree made up of
men on the whole indifferent to the slavery question." ^ In
light of all the facts, this is a just interpretation.
Polk played his part in the Mexican War with a steady hand.
He did all of his own thinking; and what was still more valuable
to him, he kept it to himself.^ He initiated the war and then
justified it on the grounds of invasion of Texas and indemnity
for claims. The first ground constituted good argument for
exciting public feeling in his favor; and the second furnished an
excellent pretext for securing territory in the way of indemnity —
one which his opponents might attack, but could not overthrow.
But behind all his conduct and public utterances lay the secret
and powerful motive of expansion. He warded off the slavery
struggle and defeated his enemies simply because there was in
Congress and the country a desire for land strong enough to
suppress all other conflicting motives. The great cause for the
war was expansion; the great pretext under which it worked was
1 Webster's Works. Vol. 2 (Old Edition), pp. 554-555.
2 Edward G. Bourne. " The Proposed Absorption of Mexico in 1847-1848."
Annual Report of American Historical Association for 1899. Vol. 1, p. 158.
Reeves holds practically the same view. See American Diplomacy under Ty-
ler and Polk, pp. 58-59.
^See George Bancroft's characterization of him. Howe's Life and Letters
of George Bancroft. Vol. 1, p. 294, and a quotation in Reeves' American
Diplomacy under Tyler and PoUc, pp. 288-289.
78 Graduate School Publications.
All the causes for the Mexican War may be grouped under the
two questions of territory and claims. The first of these ques-
tions had its origin in the Adams-Onis treaty of 1819 whereby
the United States ceded to Spain all claims over Texas. This
cession was very unpopular in this country; and soon after
Mexico came into possession of Texas by winning independence
from Spain, attempts were set on foot to get the province back
into the Union. The unsatisfactory boundary between Texas
and the United States furnished a good pretext for opening up
negotiations. By the close of the year 1829, three attempts
had been made to purchase it. In the meantime, too, it had
been populated almost wholly by Americans. These events
aroused the suspicion of Mexico and engendered in her people
an unfriendly feeling toward this country. From 1830 to 1845
numerous things occurred which changed this feeling of unfriend-
liness into open and bitter hostility. Butler's corrupt schemes
to purchase Texas; the open aid which American citizens gave
the Texas revolutionists; Gaines's entrance into Mexican terri-
tory; the recognition of Texan independence; the Santa Fe ex-
pedition; the sharp correspondence over neutrality in 1842;
Commodore Jones' attack upon Monterey; Tyler's effort to
trade the claims for Texas and Cahfornia; the final annexation
of the former province; and Polk's grand effort to trade the
claims for New Mexico and California, — all these aroused the
deepest hatred for us in Mexico. Mexico's one great grievance,
therefore, was wrapped up in the events which were connected or
at least which she thought were connected, with our desire to
On the other hand, the only fundamental and logical grievance
which United States had against Mexico resided in the claims.
That these constituted a just grievance there can be no doubt.
Although they were misrepresented in character and exaggerated
in amount, nevertheless they were worthy causes for protest
and even for war. Mexico's dilatory, evasive, and oftentimes
insolent policy regarding them can in no way be justified.
When viewed separately from the other subjects of controversy
between the two nations, the events connected with the claims
Claims as a Cause of the Mexicari War. 79
present no conduct on the part of this country' which was in any
way unnatural or extraordinary. Ellis's peremptory,' demands in
1836, Jackson's so-called war message of 1837, Greenhow's mis-
sion of the same year, the arbitration commission, the conven-
tions of 1843, and even the attempts to trade the claims for
territory were legitimate modes of procedure.
The position of the United States was a delicate one: She
desired a large portion of Mexico's dominions while at the same
time she had to seek redress for numerous injuries which that
country had inflicted upon our citizens. To make the situation
still more complex, the great slavery struggle which was going
on led the free state men to hurl violent denunciations at the
expansion policy. Every time redress for the claims was sought,
they raised the cry of conspiracy on the ground that war was
going to follow for the purpose of getting new slave territory.
This, however, was not the case.
Jackson did threaten war because of the claims, but not for
the purpose of getting Texas. Van Buren's fine caution enabled
him to avoid a crisis; and the plan of arbitration resorted to by
him was as successful as the state of feeling between the two
countries would permit. After Tyler failed to trade the claims
for Texas and California, he bent everj'- effort to secure the
former province; but he does not seem to have even thought of
going to war over the claims in order to succeed. Polk, however,
did use the claims as a pretext for war in order to get California
and New Mexico. None of these Presidents were so far as their
Mexican policies were concerned mere tools in the hands of slav-
ery interests. On the contrary, these same interests hindered
more than helped their expansion ideals. Had it not been for
these ideals the claims would have been too insignificant for
notice and the Mexican War would probably have never been
fought. As it was the claims remained a constant grievance
against Mexico down to the time of Polk; and he used them as
a pretext, not a cause, to get indemnity in the form of territory.
A Brief Statement of the Claims Taken from Ellis' In-
structions OF July 20, 1836
1. The schooner Northampton had been recently wrecked on
the Mexican coast near Tabasco. The authorities at this place
mistreated the crew, cargo, and schooner,
2. "On the 31st of December, 1831, an alcalde of Menotillan,
in the colony of Guazculaco, instituted what is said to have been
an illegal, arbitrary, and oppressive proceeding against Doctor
Baldwin, a citizen of the United States, under color of a suit at
law, preferred and carried on by a creature of the alcalde himself.
Baldwin appeared before the alcalde to answer the charge; an
altercation ensued; and the alcalde ordered him to the stocks,
which Baldwin refusing to submit to, attempted to escape, and
was pursued by a party of soldiers, who attended the court. In
the race, Baldwin fell, received an injury in one of his legs, was
captured, carried back into the presence of the alcalde, placed
in the stocks, and afterwards imprisoned."
3. "In February, 1832, the schooner Topaz, of Bangor, Maine,
was employed by the Mexican Government to carry troops from
Matamoras to Galveston Bay. The master and mate were
murdered by the soldiers on the passage, the crew imprisoned,
and the vessel seized and converted to the Mexican service. "
4. "On the 21st of June, 1832, the American schooner Brazoria
was seized in the port of Brazoria, by John Austin, the Mexican
Military Commandant in that quarter, and employed to make an
attack upon Anahuac, then in possession of insurgents. During
the attack, she was injured so as to be made unseaworthy, and
was abandoned as a total loss, for which the underwriters have
received no compensation. "
5. "In the summer of 1832, the steamboat Hidalgo and schooner
Consolation, belonging to Aaron Leggett, of New York, were
forcibly taken possession of by Mexican officers at Tabasco, and
used by them. The brig John, belonging to Leggett, was also
detained, and money was extorted from him."
6. "In March, 1834, Captain McKeige, of the schooner Indus-
try, of Mobile, was imprisoned at Tabasco, and an exorbitant fine
demanded of him without cause. The payment of the fine being
made the only condition upon which he could be allowed to
depart, he abandoned his vessel and her cargo to the authorities
who afterward sold them."
7. "In the summer of 1834, the brig Paragon, of New York, was
causelessly fired into on her way to Vera Cruz by the Mexican
public armed schooner Tampico."
8. In May, 1835, the brig Ophir, of New York, was seized and
condemned by custom-house officers at Compeachy, The
cause of the seizure grew out of a misunderstanding in regard to
the ship's papers.
9. "In May, 1835, also, the schooner Martha, from New
Orleans, was seized at Galveston Bay by the Mexican armed
schooner Montezuma for an alleged non-compliance with some of
the formalities of their revenue laws. Four of the passengers of
the Martha were put in irons under the hatches of the Monte-
zuma, and otherwise treated with great barbarity, merely for an
imputed intention to use their fire-arms against a guard that had
been placed on board the Martha.''^
10. "In November, 1835, the schooner Hannah and Elizabeth,
of New Orleans, was stranded in attempting to enter Matagorda
Bay. While in this condition, she was fired into by the Mexican
armed schooner Bravo, boarded by twenty armed soldiers under
the command of two officers, who forcibly took the master, crew,
and passengers from the wreck, pillaged them of most of their
clothes, and chained them in the hold of the Bravo until their
arrival at Matamoras, where they were continued in confinement;
but through the urgent representations of our Consul there, all
but the captain were eventually released."
11. "On the 17th of February last, William Hallett and
Zalmon Hull, citizens of the United States, were arrested in the
streets of Matamoras by a party of armed soldiers, who struck
Hull in the face with a sword, and forcibly took both to the
principal barrack in that city, where they were confined upon
suspicion of being about to proceed to Texas. Shortly afterwards
sentinels were placed at the doors of the Consul's residence,
under false pretences, and all communication with the house pro-
hibited. Armed soldiers broke open his gate during his absence,
forcibly took a mare and two mules belonging to him, entered his
home with drawn swords, and searched every room in it, for the
avowed object of finding the Consul. Hallett and Hull have
been released, but the department is not aware that any repara-
tion has been made for the proceedings against them, or for the
insult to the Consul."
12. "In February, last, an attempt was made at the city of
Mexico to take from Mr. W. A. Slacum, protected by a courier's
passport from this department, public despatches of this Govern-
ment addressed to Mr. Butler. The attempt failed, but Mr.
Slacum was fined and detained for carrying official letters on his
person, authenticated by the indorsement of this department,
and directed to the charge d'affaires of the United States in
13. "In March, last, the schooner Eclipse was detained at
Tabasco, and her master and crew mialtreated by the authorities. "
14. "In April, last, the brig Jane, schooner Compeer, and
other merchant vessels of the United States, were forcibly de-
tained at jMatamoras. "
15. "You will also notify the Mexican Government that it is
expected any damage which may have been sustained by citizens
of the United States, in consequence of the recent embargo at
Vera Cruz, Tampico, and other Mexican ports on the gulf, will
be repaired, pursuant to the stipulation in the treaty. The
papers now sent show that the military commandant of Tampico
has made the embargo a pretext for interrupting or obstructing
the correspondence between the Commander of the United States
revenue cutter Jefferson and our Consul there. For these acts,
proper satisfaction will likewise be expected."
— House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No.
105, pp. 24-27.
Brief Statement of the Claims as Presented to Mexico
BY THE United States in July, 1837
1. A. P. Chouteau and J. De Mun, chiefs of a hunting expedi-
tion, were, with their companions, arrested by Mexican officers
in 1817, carried to Santa Fe, imprisoned, and otherwise mal-
treated. They maintained that they had lost property thereby
to the value of $30,380.74|.
2. In January, 1818, the brig Cossack and her cargo were seized
by the authorities of Mazatlan on the ground that she had not
ship papers. By a decree of July, 1819, the brig and cargo were
condemned and sold and the proceeds were placed in the national
treasury of Rosario. A decree of the next year ordered that the
money be restored to the owner, but this decree was never exe-
cuted. The owner then assigned his interest in the claim to J. J.
Astor of New York and Boardman and Pope of Boston, who
stated that the proceeds of the sale were about $40,000.
3. The cargo of the ship Louisa of Providence, consisting of
arms, cordage, flour, and other provisions, was taken at the port
of Acapulco in 1821 by orders of Iturbide and appropriated to
the use of the Mexican government. Mexico acknowledged the
debt in February, 1822, and decreed the payment of -148,363 to
the owners; $14,418 were paid, but the balance, S33,945, remained
4. Five thousand five hundred and eighty-seven Mexican dol-
lars, belonging to Peter Harmony, were seized by some officers
of Iturbide and appropriated to the use of the Mexican Gov-
5. Fifteen thousand Mexican dollars, belonging to Harmony
and Le Roy Bayard & Co., were seized in 1882 while being
conveyed from Mexico to La Vera Cruz and were appropriated
to the use of the Mexican Government.
6. Four thousand seven hundred and thirty-eight dollars and 6|
reals, belonging to Jethro Mitchell, were seized and detained by
Mexican officials in 1822 while being conveyed from Mexico to
La Vera Cruz.
7. John K. West and others furnished supplies to Herreva,
an agent of the Mexican government. Payment had never been
8. The brig Liberty, valued at $3,500 with a cargo valued at
$4,000 while en route from New York to Mexico, was captured
off the bar at Alvarado by the Mexican government schooner
Iguala on the ground that she was carrying Spanish goods into
a Mexican port in violation of a Mexican decree.
9. The brig Cato sailed from Villa Hermosa, the capital of
Tabasco, regularly cleared for the port of Philadelphia with
leave to touch at Alvarado. For the purpose of loading with log-
wood, she anchored in the river near the Rancho of Chilassa.
Here on August 26, 1824, she was boarded by fifteen to twenty
men, rifled of numerous articles among which were $2,701 in
specie, and left aground. Two of the crew were wounded in
the struggle. The owners claimed $5,544.98 damage.
10. The schooner Leda was detained at Tabasco from Sep-
tember 1 to November 13, 1824, and excessive tonnage was
illegally exacted. Owners claimed $988.
11. Borie, Laguerenne, and others claimed that excessive and
illegal duties had been levied and collected on certain cottons
imported into Alvarado in 1824 and 1825 by merchants of Phila-
delphia and New York. The claims amounted to $32,721.79,
with interest from February, 1825.
12. The schooner Felix wdth cargo was condemned near Soto
la Marina harbor in September, 1835, on the ground that she
was carrying goods of Spanish origin from a Spanish port des-
tined for Mexico. Amount claimed was $37,117.29.
13. The brig Delight of Philadelphia was at one time compelled
to unload and reship because of customs regulations. The
owners claimed that this caused a loss of $3,716.48. At another
time, the vessel was seized by a collector of customs with armed
force on same grounds. The amount claimed for this was $15,-
692.50. Both incidents occurred in 1825.
14. The schooner Fair American of Baltimore had her cargo
seized in January, 1826, on the ground that she had not complied
with customs regulations and on the ground that she was sus-
pected of illicit trading. Amount claimed was $50,225.21 with
15. The schooner Superior of New York was captured by
Mexican gunboat Orizaba in February, 1826, because she was
thought to be the Superior of Philadelphia which had been en-
gaged in smuggling. The claim was based on the fact that the
vessel was ruined, having become worm-eaten because of lying
in port so long. Amount was not stated.
16. John H. Andrews had shipped twenty bales of white wax
from St. Petersburg to Vera Cruz. The custom-house officer
of the latter place condemned and sold it on the ground that the
wax was of Cuba origin. Amount claimed was $1,631.25.
17. The ship Franklin and the brig Barrian of Boston got into
difficulties at St. Diego over custom duties. Parts of the car-
goes were taken to pay duties. The captains resisted this and
also refused to give up ship papers whereupon the vessels were
fired upon. Amount claimed was $53,657.54.
18. Eli E. Hammond and Jarvis S. Hammond were engaged
in the summer of 1828 in a trading expedition from Missouri to
Santa Fe. They were arrested for smuggling and their merchan-
dise was confiscated. Amount claimed was $7,000.
19. The brig William of Newport, R. I., was forcibly taken in
August, 1829, by Mexican officers and used for forty-four days
during the Spanish invasion. Amount claimed was $4,999.33.
20. The brig Splendid of New Haven was forced for a time in
the year 1829 into Mexican service. Amount claimed was
21. In the year 1830, the brig Ursula of Boston was also
forced into Mexican service for a time. Amount claimed was
22. Pell and Brothers of New York sent types and press to
the American Consul at Tampico with a view to the setting up
of a printing press there. The Spaniards who invaded Mexico
in 1829 first used these and then destroyed them. Amount of
claim was not stated.
23. William H. Shaw chartered the Schooner Galaxy of Hal-
lowell, Maine, for some voyages between Havana and Liguria at
the rate of $450 per month. Mexican authorities detained him.
Amount of claim was not stated.
24. The schooners Rebecca Eliza and Alert of New York ar-
rived at Tampico in September, 1829, at a time when the Spanish
invading army was there. The Mexican authorities seized them
on the ground that they were carrying provisions to the Spanish
army. The vessels were so maltreated that they had to be
abandoned. Amount of claim was not stated.
25. The brig General Morelos of New Orleans was forcibly
detained and held by the authorities of Vera Cruz. Amount
claimed was $8,826.
26. The vessel Eliza Jane of New York was condemned at
Vera Cruz on the ground that she was unseaworthy and sold.
In transshipping, the captain was forced to give bond for pay-
ment of tonnage duty which he had paid before at point of de-
parture. Amount of claim not stated.
27. The claim of John Baldwin. ''A certain alcalde of Minotit-
lan, in the colony of Guazcualco, preferred, through a creature
of his own, an illegal, arbitrary, and oppressive proceeding against
Baldwin, under color of a suit at law. Baldwin appeared before
the alcalde (31st December, 1831) to answer the charge; an alter-
cation ensued, and the alcalde ordered him to the stocks, which
Baldwin refused to submit to, attempted to escape, and was
pursued and fired upon by a party of soldiers who attended court.
In the race Baldwin fell, and received an injury in one of his legs
or knees, was captured, carried back into the presence of the
alcalde, placed in the stocks, and afterwards imprisoned." No
28. In February, 1832, the master of the schooner Topaz agreed
to carry one hundred and fifty soldiers from Matamoras to Gal-
veston, During the voyage the master and mate were murdered,
some of the property of the vessel was stolen, and the Mexicans
then took possession of her. Amount of claim was not stated.
29. The schooner Brazoria while lying in port at Brazoria was
seized by John Austin, the Mexican military commandant in
that quarter, and employed in an attack on Anahuac. During
the attack, she was so much injured that the o\vners abandoned
her to the underwriters. Amount claimed was $6,800, with in-
terest until paid.
30. The claims of Aaron Leggett. In November, 1831, Leg-
gett obtained from the legislature of Tabasco an exclusive privi-
lege to use steamboats on the waters of that state for the period
of ten years. Leggett sent certain vessels thither to transport
logwood. During a i"evolution, some of his vessels were seized
and forced into Mexican service. His agent was imprisoned and
money was extorted from him. In all, Leggett had thirty claims
amounting to $786,507.72.
31. In June, 1833, the schooner Augustus was seized in the
harbor of Brazo de Santiago on the ground that she was smug-
gling. Hurlburt, who had chartered the vessel, claimed $6,030.09
damage for loss incurred.
32. In July, 1833, the schooner Wetree was seized by the
authorities of Tampico. The master abandoned the vessel, but
his papers, which were the only ones on which the claim was
based did not state the amount of the loss.
33. On March 10, 1834, the brig Industry was ready to sail
from Tabasco. The captain failed to secure clearance and gave
up the vessel, whereupon the Mexican authorities sold her.
Amount claimed was $11,060.68.
34. On May 5, 1834, the schooner William A. Turner put
into port at Sisal in distress. Here the vessel and cargo were
seized by Mexican authorities. Amount of claim was not stated.
35. Brig Paragon. "In the summer of 1834, on her voyage
from New York to Vera Cruz, this vessel was fired upon by the
Mexican public armed schooner Tatnpico."
36. In 1834, three boxes of merchandise, belonging to the
schooner Two Brothers, were condemned for want of invoices.
Amount claimed was $1,000.
37. On September 25, 1834, the master of the schooner St.
Croix was imprisoned by the collector of customs at Aransas-
ser Bay in Texas because he failed to pay duties. The master
was otherwise maltreated and had to abandon the vessel, which
became, as a result, unseaworthy. Amount of claim was not
38. In 1836, double tonnage duties were collected from the
brig Westo7i. Amount claimed was $352.75.
39. Schooner Martha. "This vessel was seized at Brazoria by
the Mexican vessel of war Montezuma, in May, 1835, taken to
Vera Cruz, and condemned, as is presumed, upon a charge
that some articles of her cargo were not included in the manifest •
Some of the passengers were arrested on the charge of an attempt
to rise against the guard placed on board of her at Galveston."
Amount of claim not stated.
40. Schooner Hannah Elizabeth. " This vessel was stranded in
November, 1835, near Matagora, in Texas. Whilst in that situ-
ation, she was fired upon by the Mexican armed schooner Bravo,
and her master, mate, three seamen, and five passengers, carried
to Matamoras, and imprisoned."
41. In May, 1835, the district court at Campeachy condemned
the brig Ophir because of faulty ship papers. Amount of claim
was not stated.
42. In April, 1836, the brig Jane and other vessels were de-
tained at Matamoras on the ground that hostile vessels were
cruising in those waters. United States held that this action
was in violation of the eighth article of the treaty of amity,
commerce, and navigation.
43. On March 19, 1836, the schooner Eclipse was seized at Ta-
basco without cause, and the captain and crew were maltreated.
Amount of claim was not stated.
44. W. E. Coleman, acting Consul of the United States at
Tabasco, was publicly insulted and maltreated because he re-
fused to legalize certain documents.
45. Schooner Aurora. This vessel was stranded five leagues
west of the Tabasco River, but the greater part of her cargo
was safely landed. The custom-house officers and military took
forcible possession of these articles, whereupon the crew re-
monstrated. In the struggle, the mate was severely wounded.
The cargo was then plundered by the officers and soldiers.
Amount of claim was not stated.
46. In September, 1836, the schooner Bethlehem was taken
possession of by the Mexican Navy and forced into her service.
Amount of claim was not given.
47. Brig Fourth of July. Edmund Didier of Baltimore had
had this vessel built for the purpose of selling her for the Mexican
government. In October, 1836, the vessel was in the port of
Vera Cruz. Mexicans took possession of her and hoisted the
Mexican flag before the papers of sale were properly concluded.
In the end, this claim came to be a demand of satisfaction for
the manner in which the vessel had been taken possession of
by the authorities at Vera Cruz.
48. Seamen of the Natchez. On November 2, 1836, a boat
and eight men, under the command of Midshipman Renshaw,
left the United States sloop of war Natchez, then at anchor off
Sacrificios, and landed on the mole, in the city of Vera Cruz.
The officer went to see the Consul and in the meantime the crew
became intoxicated and got into a fight, in which two were
wounded. The sailors were unable to manage the boat, so
Renshaw asked the captain of the port to receive them in charge
till next day. The Consul asked for their delivery the next day>
but it was refused and the Consul was not even allowed to see
them. They were kept in close confinement.
49. William Hallett and Zalmon Hall, and D. W. Smith,
Consul of the United States at Matamoras. "On the 17th of
February, 1836, Hallett and Hall, citizens of the United States,
were arrested in the streets of Matamoras by a party of armed
soldiers, who struck Hall in the face with a sword, and forcibly
took both to the principal barrack of that city, where they were
confined on suspicion of being about to proceed to Texas. Sen-
tinels were placed at the doors of the Consul's residence subse-
quently to the arrest of Hallett and Hall, and all communication
therewith prohibited. Armed soldiers broke open his gate during
his absence, forcibly took a mare and two mules belonging to
him, entered his house with drawn swords, and searched every
room in it, with the avowed object of finding the Consul himself.
Hallett and Hall have been released." United States desired
satisfaction for this.
50. Schooner Peter D. Vroom. This vessel was wrecked off
the coast forty miles above Vera Cruz in the summer of 1836.
The captain appointed the American Consul agent of the cargo.
The Consul of Vera Cruz, sent vessels for the cargo, brought it
to Vera Cruz, and tendered it to the original consignee, who re-
fused it. The merchantile of Vera Cruz appointed an agent
instead of the American Consul who proceeded to sell the goods.
Claim was for the refusal to allow American Consul to act as
51. Lieutenant Osburn, and boat's crew of the United States
revenue cutter Jefferson. The American merchants at Tampico
requested that a vessel which could pass the bar might be sent
for their protection. The revenue cutter Jefferson was ordered
by Commodore Dallas to proceed to Tampico. Mr. Robertson,
our Consul there, asked General Gomez, the military command-
ant there, for permission to let the cutter come up to the town.
Gomez refused. Lieutenant Osburn of the Jefferson attempted
to call on the Consul, but before he was allowed to, he was
put into custody of an officer, taken to the commandant's quar-
ters and examined. While he was absent from the ship, the crew
were put into prison and detained for a time. Gomez was re-
moved, but shortly after appointed commandant at Vera Cruz-
52. Ship Robert Wilsoii. This vessel was seized in August'
1833, at Vera Cruz on the ground of having imported false coin,
contrary to the revenue laws of Mexico. The seizure was tried
in the Mexican courts and the vessel sold for benefit of the
government. The owners sued the Union Insurance Company
and received $12,313.26. This company tried for eighteen months
to get the proceedings of the Mexican courts and sent three com-
missions for them. The American minister was asked to help.
They could not be gotten in time to save the company from
paying the damage. The company claimed indemnity for
refusal to send the court records.
53. Captain James O'Flaherty, master of the schooner William
A. Turner, was detained at Sisal in 1834, and compelled to give
up his vessel and cargo until the courts returned them. He was
also compelled to give up his ship at Matamoras in 1836, and was
himself imprisoned. For the loss at Sisal, $10,969 was claimed;
and for the loss at Matamoras, $7,500.
54. A. de O. Santangelo. "This individual is a naturalized
citizen of the United States. He was editor of a newspaper at
the city of Mexico, called El Correo Atlantico, and his wife kept
a school there for the instruction of young women. Some re-
marks in his paper having given offense to the Mexican Govern-
ment, passports were sent to him in June, 1835, with an order
to quit that country within — days. He claims one hundred
thousand dollars as an indemnification for this sudden banish-
ment, which he declares to have been contrary to the Mexican
laws, as well as in violation of his rights as a citizen of the United
55. Mr. Gorostiza. "This person, recently envoy extraor-
dinary and minister plenipotentiary of the Mexican republic
to the United States, caused to be printed and distributed among
the members of the diplomatic body accredited to this Govern-
ment, a pamphlet defamatory of the Government and people of
the United States."
56. Forced loans, "For all exactions which may have been
made from citizens of the United States, under laws of the
Mexican republic authorizing forced loans, ample indemnifica-
tion will be expected."
57. Louisiana, Champion, Julius Caesar. "These vessels were
captured by the Mexican squadron in the Gulf of Mexico in the
spring of 1837, for an alleged violation of a pretended blockade
of the ports of Texas."
(For full statement of the claims see House Executive Docu-
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